Current Issues

Education Emerges as Prominent Civil Rights Issue, Survey Says

Gay rights, health care, gender equality also identified as top civil rights issues

By: Liz Leer, Laura Snedeker and Feri G. Koszorus

When you think of civil rights, what words come to mind?

Access to education is the most important civil rights issue of today, according to a recent survey.

While most survey respondents said they equate civil rights with the traditional struggle for racial equality, some new topics have emerged as current civil rights issues.

“The gamut runs from gay rights to religious rights…women and minority rights are still an issue as well, as is class rights,” wrote one respondent, who also mentioned access to education.

The online survey reflects the attitudes of 335 respondents queried between March 9 and April 26, 2010.  The survey, which is not scientific, was conducted for Gannett by American University students in the School of Communication as part of a class project on civil rights issues today.  Survey development was supervised by School of Communication Professor Maria Ivancin.

Nearly half of respondents identified access to education as the top civil rights issue of today, with more than 77 percent calling it a very important issue.  Access to education was followed by gay rights, access to health care and gender equality as the top civil rights issues. Non-white respondents, however, were much more likely to mention racial equality in the top three.

The rights of Guantanamo detainees and fetal rights were the least important civil rights issues, according to the survey respondents.

Traditional civil rights issues remain salient

The efforts of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the traditional struggle for racial equality come to many people’s minds when asked about civil rights.

“I think of the civil rights movement of the 1960s…it is more images that come to mind than words: the marches, the dogs, the police and Klan, the singing,” wrote one respondent.

More than 89 percent of all respondents said racial inequalities remain important, but only a third identified racial inequalities as one of the top three current civil rights issues.

Eighty-one percent of the respondents identified themselves as white/Caucasian, and 19 percent identified as non-white. (The breakdown was 6.5 percent identifying as black/African American; 4.6 percent as Asian or Pacific Islander; 2.5 percent as Mixed-Race; .6 percent as Native American; and 3.7 percent as being of Hispanic or Latino origin).

When the data was cross-tabulated, non-white respondents were more likely to point to persistent racial inequalities and racial profiling as more important issues, the survey said.  African Americans and Asian Americans identified racial inequalities as one of the top three most important civil rights issues.  In fact, nine in 10 of the African American respondents said issues of racial inequalities and racial or ethnic profiling are very important.

“We’ve come a long way, but aren’t done.  We are still people, more inclined to trust those who we view are similar to us…” wrote one respondent.

What are the civil rights issues of today?

Access to education remained a top issue across racial lines.  100 percent of African American and Asian American respondents and more than 91 percent of Hispanic/Latino respondents said access to education is an important issue.

“Education is the biggest issue.  If every child actually had the same right to an education, then a lot of the other statistics that show minorities [leading in] arrest rates or [the] number of people living below the poverty line would most likely decline,” wrote a respondent.

Gay rights: the top of mind civil rights issue of today

The majority of respondents mentioned gay rights and marriage equality when asked about their thoughts on the civil rights issues of today.

Respondents ranked gay rights as the second most important civil rights issue, with more than 86 percent saying it is an important issue.  In fact, more than 66 percent said gay rights is very important.

Nearly 80 percent of respondents said that gay couples should have the same rights as straight couples.  “Gay marriage is at [the] heart of the civil rights struggle,” wrote one respondent.

Health care as a civil right

Access to health care also gained prominence as a civil rights issue, according to the survey.

More than 90 percent of respondents said access to health care is an important issue, with 68 percent saying it is very important.  More than three-quarters of respondents said that people should have the right to health care coverage.

“Even countries that are far less developed than ours have universal health care access,” wrote one respondent.  “If we have the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, [then] access to medical attention that doesn’t deplete our life savings should be a priority.”

Strong support for equal pay

Survey respondents identified gender equality as one of the top three most important civil rights issues, nearly 90 years after women received the right to vote.

96 percent of respondents said women should have the right to receive equal pay for doing the same job as men.

Other issues surrounding equal pay for women also emerged in the survey.  “[A woman’s] base salary may be lower due to comparatively higher health insurance costs a company may give women because of the additional cost of pregnancy and other gender specific conditions,” wrote one respondent.

Regarding abortion, 82 percent of respondents said reproductive rights are an important issue, but reproductive rights failed to place as one of the top three most important civil rights issues.  More than 71 percent of respondents said that women should have the right to terminate a pregnancy.

Women comprised nearly two-thirds of the respondents.

Other demographics also factored

  • Nearly 60 percent of the 335 respondents were between the ages of 18 and 29.  Only 19 percent of respondents were 50 or over.
  • More than 61 percent of the respondents achieved a bachelor’s degree or higher.  Nearly 33 percent have taken college courses or are working towards a college degree.
  • More than half of the respondents identified as liberal, while approximately 20 percent identified themselves as conservative.  About 15 percent said they were neither conservative nor liberal.
  • Nearly half of the respondents consider themselves religious, while more than 28 percent considered themselves not at all religious.
  • A majority of the respondents were from the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions of the U.S.

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