More than 100 students and Madison community members stormed a campus-area press conference Tuesday where a national interest group accused the University of Wisconsin-Madison of "severe" racial discrimination.
The Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO) released the results of studies that looked at the impact on acceptance rates at the university and Law School of such admission criteria as standardized test scores and high school performance. The group says its findings, culled from data collected during 2007 and 2008, show that race plays a key role.
"The odds ratio favoring African Americans and Hispanics over whites was 576 to 1 and 504 to 1, respectively, using the SAT and class rank while controlling other factors," according to the statement from the conservative think tank, which opposes affirmative action and bilingual education.
In the statement, chairman Linda Chavez called the findings "the most severe undergraduate admissions discrimination that CEO has ever found in the dozens of studies it has published over the last 15 years. The studies show that literally hundreds of students applying as undergrads or to the law school are rejected in favor of students with lower test scores and grades, and the reason is that they have the wrong skin color or their parents came from the wrong countries."
While the group released its findings at a public meeting at the downtown Madison DoubleTree Hotel Tuesday, more than 100 students and many members of the press were denied access to the room. The group cited capacity concerns in denying entry.
Once forced by hotel staff to leave the lobby, protesters gathered outside the building's entrance. Though the protests were peaceful, Madison Police Department officers were on standby when protesters rushed the DoubleTree doors and followed CEO officials to the elevators after the conference.
The protest group, which was composed of individuals of mixed ethnicities, was organized following a campus meeting on Monday evening.
"Power to the people! People power!" UW undergraduate Danez Smith began to chant as others around him joined in. "Want our scores? Fine, we'll give them our scores, but take into account who we are, take what communities we come from, take what we've done for our communities, take who we are going to be and take what we inspire this university to be."
Smith, an African American student, shared that he has a cumulative grade point average of 3.6 on a 4.0 scale. He said he has seen repeated instances on campus where students of color and low-income students are mistakenly assumed to be there solely because of affirmative action policies.
"We will not let racist ... outsiders come in here and tell us who we should be admitting and what they should be admitted by," Smith said. "Now, I don't know what classes you go to, but the classes I go to, it seems like there are plenty of white students."
UW prides itself on its "holistic" admissions process, taking factors other than test scores and class rankings into consideration. And in a response issued Tuesday, it defended its admission process, saying it is in line with the U.S. Supreme Court's position on affirmative action.
"We believe deeply in what we are doing at the university and every student has the potential and the academic profile to be successful at UW-Madison," said UW's chief diversity officer and vice provost Damon Williams. "The commentary offered by CEO fails to recognize this point and that the presence of social diversity enhances the excellence of our institution in so many ways."
Students have organized a second protest on Bascom Hill for 6 p.m. Tuesday.