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Identify with Us

Are 1/3 of the African American students at Williams first or second generation immigrants? Probably.

At a reunion of black alumni of Harvard University in 2003, Lani Guinier set off a discussion on a sensitive subject: whether black immigrants are the beneficiaries, perhaps undeserving, of affirmative action.

Guinier, a Harvard law professor, was quoted in The Boston Globe at the time as saying that most minority students at elite colleges were “voluntary immigrants,” not descended from slaves. “If you look around Harvard College today, how many young people will you find who grew up in urban environments and went to public high schools and public junior high schools?” she said. “I don’t think, in the name of affirmative action, we should be admitting people because they look like us, but then they don’t identify with us.”

Of all black people aged 18 or 19 in the United States, about 13 percent are first- or second-generation immigrants, but they made up 27 percent of black students at the selective colleges studied. The proportions of immigrants were higher at the private colleges in the survey than at publics, and were highest among the most competitive colleges in the group, hitting 41 percent of the black students in the Ivy League.

The chart presented in the article suggests that 1/3 would be a good estimate for Williams. Sounds like an interesting Record article! Note also this comment from the discussion thread.

I went to Brown, and I’d say a majority of the African-American students went to prep schools and were very well off. Ivy League schools do not generally take chances on African-American students from inner-city public schools. In fact, there was an African-American student from inner-city DC, and there were numerous articles written about him, proving that fact. Therefore, I don’t see why this is so shocking to anyone in academia.

True at Williams? Also, all of this leaves aside the issue of mixed parentage. Lani Guinier (like Senator Barak Obama) has a white mother. (Not that there is anything wrong with that!)

Back in the day, it was taken for granted that the benefits of affirmative action went to students who a) Did not grow up rich and b) Did not attend prep schools and c) Had 4 US-born grandparents who had suffered under the legacy of discrimination. It appears that this would now only be true for a (small?) minority of the beneficiaries of affirmative action at Williams today.

Those with better information should comment below. My point here is not to praise or blame the current policy. I just want to know about the actual composition of the Williams student body.

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#1 Comment By frank uible On February 2, 2007 @ 12:21 pm

The people who count the checked boxes don’t care.

#2 Comment By Derek On February 2, 2007 @ 12:54 pm

First off, I would argue that second or third generation immigrants from Africa (especially if only one parent fits that category) have still suffered from the racism that affirmative action is intended to overcome.

Second, to be completely frank, given America’s loathsomely deficient Africa policy in the last, oh, forever, I cannot find even one second to lament the policy even if that is the case. If schools like Williams decide to count children who may or may not partially be of African descent in the pool of African-American candidates, I am fine with that.

dcat

#3 Comment By hwc On February 2, 2007 @ 1:04 pm

Back in the day, it was taken for granted that the benefits of affirmative action went to students who a) Did not grow up rich and b) Did not attend prep schools and c) Had 4 US-born grandparents who had suffered under the legacy of discrimination.

Really? I’ve never seen any information on affirmative action admissions policies that stipulated a requirement for the birthplace or life experiences of an applicant’s grandparents.

Frank, in his own succinct way, has it exactly right. The people who count checkboxes don’t care. Affirmative action is quite simple in concept. When you have a targeted group with smaller numbers of applications and/or lower yield, you accept a higher percentage of them. When you have a group with higher numbers of applications and/or higher yields, you accept fewer of them.

These groups can be of any characteristic. Depending on the school and its applicant pool, you might see higher acceptance rates for blacks or Latinos or men or research physics majors or varsity football players. All admissions is a numbers game, filling “slots” with students from sorted stacks of applications.

Oh, one more point. It’s been a long time, but I have a vague recollection of reading in some long ago class on American history or politics that the United States has always been a country of immigrants. Some consider its “melting pot” heritage to be one of the country’s great strengths. I’m not sure I understand the problem with college accepting first or second generation children of immigrants.

#4 Comment By Anonymous On February 2, 2007 @ 1:33 pm

Really? I’ve never seen any information on affirmative action admissions policies that stipulated a requirement for the birthplace or life experiences of an applicant’s grandparents.

That’s the point. The “requirement” was not explicitly stated, because it was assumed that affirmative action beneficiaries would be those disadvantaged by the legacy of slavery. Now we’re questioning that assumption.

When you have a targeted group with smaller numbers of applications and/or lower yield, you accept a higher percentage of them.

Keyword: “targeted”. People with black skin aren’t really a targeted group for that reason alone, or at least they shouldn’t be. Race is used as a predictor to identify kids from a disadvantaged background or who would bring a diverse perspective to the college. Rich kids from prep schools, regardless of race, don’t really fit into that, and there’s no reason to give them preference just because they may have black skin.

I’m not sure I understand the problem with college accepting first or second generation children of immigrants.

That’s a pretty blatant straw man. No one is saying there is any kind of problem with accepting immigrants, just that there’s no particular reason to give them special preference.

#5 Comment By Richard Dunn On February 2, 2007 @ 1:37 pm

Just to clarify, I suspect that the majority of those classified as “the children of Black immigrants” are not from Africa but rather from the Caribbean and Latin America. While these immigrations were not involuntary viz a viz the United States, they were quite likely involuntarily if we consider the passage from Africa to the sugar and coffee plantations of Central America. The slave experience differed dramatically between regions of the America’s, so it is difficult to say much beyond that. I wouldn’t want to speculate whether it was “better” to be a slave in North Carolina, Jamaica, Martinique, Cuba, or Surinam.
Just a few months ago, the NYT reported that Queens County was the first in which the median household income of Blacks was higher than for Whites. The caveat was that immigrants from Jamaica and Trinidad and other Caribbean nations were responsible for the higher incomes. Blacks with native born parents still lagged woefully behind Whites.
The antagonism between Caribbean Blacks and native-born Blacks in New York City goes back at least 30 or 40 years. I could attempt to generalize the opinions of Caribbean Blacks towards native born Blacks and vice-versa, but won’t since I don’t even have an academic job, let alone tenure, yet.

#6 Comment By Anonymous On February 2, 2007 @ 3:01 pm

Changing demographics are making a farce of affirmative action. Hispanic Americans have replaces Afircan Americans as the United States’ largest minority. The population of my hometown, a city of about 750,000,is about 80 percent Hispanics. One the city’s African Americans, American Indians, Asian and non-Hispanic White females are counted, about 95 percent of the city’s residents are eligible for affirmative action. (Recent surveys show immigrants from Latin American countries tend to hold more racists views than native-born Americans.)

Most Americans would probably continue to support affirmative action in college admission if it were limited to African-Americans.

#7 Comment By hwc On February 2, 2007 @ 3:50 pm

That’s the point. The “requirement” was not explicitly stated, because it was assumed that affirmative action beneficiaries would be those disadvantaged by the legacy of slavery. Now we’re questioning that assumption.

Not “questioning that assumption”. Rejecting that assumption. The nation’s colleges and universities, in their amicus brief filings in the UMich affirmative action cases, have specifically rejected correcting historic discrimination as a motivation for affirmative action.

Affirmative action is supported exclusively by a desire for diversity…for diversity’s sake. It’s a purely numeric exercise, in both motivation and implementation.

Keyword: “targeted”. People with black skin aren’t really a targeted group for that reason alone, or at least they shouldn’t be.

All elite college admissions is “targeted” and “slot based”. Failing to understand that explains why so many high school applicants and their parents mistakengly believe that admissions is “random”.

To accurately gauge admissions chances, it is essential to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses viz-a-viz other candidates for your relevant slots. This is why a tightly-focused application with a clear, easily discerned “identity” is likely to be more successful than an application that throws everything against the wall in an effort to present a “well-rounded” jack-of-all-trades student. Successful applicants position themselves to slide into a slot that the college is trying to fill, either by design or blind luck.

#8 Comment By hwc On February 2, 2007 @ 4:01 pm

David:

If you’ve taken your blood pressure medication, pick up a copy of “The Gatekeepers” at the library. It’s a book about a full admissions cycle at Wesleyan. IMO, it is the rosetta stone for understanding how to think like an elite college admissions officer.

There are two phases of “grief” that come with reading this book. I went through them. My wife went through them. My college applicant daughter went through them. The first phase is extreme anger at the system (especially if you are a white female applicant from Massachusetts). The second phase is more rewarding. Understanding the rules by which the game is played can lead to an intense motivation to win the game. Just like understanding to nuances of complex strategy in the NFL leads to heightened appreciation for a well-coached game, so to for college admissions. Reading the book as a rising high school senior was like a light switch for my daughter in the way she approached her applications.