In retrospect, I should have brought up the interesting issue of what counts as “Hispanic” at Williams as a general topic and not tied it directly to one particular student. So, let me bring it up here. The Record reports that:

[Director of Admissions Richard] Nesbitt said he was “ecstatic” with the yield of minority students. “We’re doing very well by any standards,” he said. Included in the class are 53 Asian Americans, 42 African Americans (down from 53 last year at this time), 55 Latinos (a record high) and three Native Americans. Thirty-two international students have also accepted offers. Nesbitt expected the number of African Americans to rise to 9 percent of the class as decision extensions expire this month.

Question: Is it true that there are 55 “Latinos” in the class of 2009?

Now I am not accusing Nesbitt ’74 (or the Record) of lying, but I think that this magic number requires some parsing. I believe that the admissions office gets all it race/ethnicity data from the Common Application that all applicants fill out. It provides an array of ethnic/racial boxes that one may check, including “Puerto Rican”, “Mexican American, Chincano” and “Hispanic, Latino” with a place to specify the country of origin.

Presumably, when Nesbitt reports that the class of 2009 will have 55 “Latinos”, he means that there were 55 students who checked at least one of those three boxes. (This is a perfectly reasonable shorthand for Nesbitt to use.) But are there really 55 Latinos?

My purpose here is not to delve into the issue of affirmative action at Williams, a topic that we broached in one of the first EphBlog debates. I just want to understand the facts on the ground. Applicants may check whatever box(es) they like. The College does not check that these answers are truthful or even accurate. Do I think that many applicants lie? No — although, given the admissions policies at Williams and other elite schools, the temptation to do so must be a strong one.

My concern is with answers that are truthful, but misleading. Note that the application asks “If you wish to be identified with a particular ethnic group, please check all that apply.” In other words, I am not sure that it is even possible to lie. You do not have to “really” be Latino to (honestly or not) want to be identified as such. If your physician father (or grandfather or great-great-grandfather) emigrated from Spain, then there is nothing that prevents you from checking the Latino box. Is a student whose grandfather immigrated from Spain — but who does not speak Spanish or have any particular interest in or knowledge of Hispanic culture — “really” Latino? Even if his other three grandparents are direct descendants from passengers on the Mayflower?

This is not an easy question to answer, but my goal, for now, is just to gather some more accurate data. What would I like to see? Well, in the short term, I would like Williams to be much more forthcoming with its data. For example, I would like to know the number of students who speak a language other than English at home (and what those languages are). I would like to see the breakdown of country of birth as well as first language. All of this is trivial to produce since it is also part of the Common Application.

My guess would be that — if your definition of “Latino” means someone with such a strong connection to Hispanic culture that the education of their classmates at Williams will be further enriched — there are not really 55 Latinos in the class of 2009.

If Williams is going to be in the business of nose-counting, then it ought to count those noses accurately.

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