Racial Issues Lose Urgency, Study Finds

Stuart Silverstein, Los Angeles Times, Jan. 31

UCLA freshman Karina Hernandez doesn’t recall ever encountering discrimination as a Latina, and says she isn’t especially concerned with the issue of race and ethnic relations.

“For me, the racial boundaries are not there,” said Hernandez, an 18-year-old from Ontario planning to major in aerospace engineering.

Hernandez provides one explanation for a key conclusion drawn from a new survey of the nation’s college freshmen: They are less preoccupied with race and ethnicity.

The survey, being released today by UCLA researchers, found that a record high 22.7% of freshmen said racial discrimination was no longer a major problem in America.

In addition, just 29.7% of the nation’s college freshmen characterized “helping to promote racial understanding” as an essential or very important personal goal. That was the lowest level ever in the 28 years that the poll has raised the question.

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However, the UCLA survey also found that the percentage of entering freshmen who indicated that chances were “very good” that they would socialize with someone of a different racial or ethnic background during college had declined to 63.1%. That was down from 66.2% a year earlier, and was the lowest level since UCLA’s poll started including the question in 2000.

In addition, opinions differed significantly between whites and minorities on race-related questions. For instance, though 23.5% of white freshmen characterized helping to promote racial understanding as essential or very important, 54.8% of blacks and 43.6% of Latinos felt that way.

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• Freshmen were more polarized politically. Students describing themselves as “middle of the road” remained the biggest group, at 46.4%, but that percentage was the smallest in more than 30 years and was down from 50.3% in 2003. Liberals accounted for 26.1% and conservatives 21.9%. Students describing themselves as “far left” climbed to 3.4%, and those as “far right” rose to 2.2%—both record highs.

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