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Tyngs for African-Americans

One of the great problems that Williams faces in admissions is attracting enough/any African-American applicants will Williams-caliber credentials. Partly, this is because Williams, because of its location and size, is less attractive (on average) to African-American applicants than it is to other applicants. (The same is probably true for international students). But, much more important is the intense competition for elite African-American students from schools like Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford. Almost any African-American applicant with the high school grades and standardized test scores which would place her in the normal range for academic admission (AR 1 and 2) will be accepted at one or more of HYPS. (This is not true of, say, Chinese-American applicants.) Since 90% of applicants (and probably a higher percentage of African-American applicants) admitted to the College and one of these 4 choose HYPS over Williams, this means that Williams has little choice but to accept many African-American applicants who we would not accept were they Chinese-American.

The only practical solution to convince such students to choose Williams is to make it worth their while. And the Tyng (money for graduate school and extra money while at Williams) is the best method available. Therefore, the College should award almost all Tyng Scholarships to African-American applicants, thereby luring 4-8 African-American applicants away from HYPS and to Williams each year. (With luck, HYPS won’t feel compelled to match our offers.) For legal reasons, Williams might need to make an occasional offer to someone who was not African-American, but I doubt that the Department of Justice would be making trouble against these sorts of efforts anytime soon.

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#1 Comment By PTC On January 19, 2009 @ 9:31 am

CGCL- Looking at the numbers really makes you wonder. Not only are AA students under represented at Williams,they graduate less,and have a much worse experience.

The numbers tell “a story” but has anyone taken the time to do an in depth study as to why Blacks have such a hard time at Williams? You have a number of reasons stated above that seem to be no brainers… but without an in depth look as to why… you will never know.

The berkshires are about as “lilly white” as it gets. Williams is still very much, a white preppy jock school. Perhaps more programs allowig study abroad and exchanges might help… if Williams fully funded outside learning expereinces for 4 or more semesters as an opportunity, to both AA and students of other races, that might help. How many semesters can a person study abroad and at different institutions? Perhaps a team of 8 people on a track with a minor in multi cultural studies that spends most of the expereince away from Williams,could work? It would be a great learning experience.

#2 Comment By rory On January 19, 2009 @ 10:10 am

David–this is still a bad use of a scholarship. williams should identify the students who deserve the Tyng based on its own desires for students. who cares if those students are or are not otherwise headed elsewhere? This shouldn’t be a competition.

PTC–there has been an in-depth look at african american students at elite colleges (including williams in its sample). Much/most/of the difference in GPA and graduation rates by race is associated as well, if not more strongly, to class difference, family human capital difference, and outside stressors while in college (the book is coming out soon…I’ve seen an advanced copy). That’s not to say that Williams can’t or shouldn’t focus on the problems of black students as black students (there’s still a satisfaction gap and there still is the fact that race and class are intertwined in experience even if a regression can split them in a model)), but also complicate those responses to appreciate the diversity of backgrounds within the black student body…there are some for whom williams is a first time outside of an urban area and there are some who have been in lily white preppy environments for years and years.

i wonder, however, if a study of study abroad as an intervention has ever been undertaken…might be interesting to see.

#3 Comment By ’10 On January 19, 2009 @ 10:19 am

David, I always had you pegged as someone anti affirmative action. Did I miss a few posts along the line?

#4 Comment By PTC On January 19, 2009 @ 10:29 am

Rory- I am thinking of a complete change, an offer, for all students that allows for more diverse learning. You cannot get true diversity sitting at a desk in Williamstown…or anywhere else for that matter, you just can’t.

I am thinking of a track something like this… for a minor or major. First year at Williams. One semester second year in an urban setting. Both semesters junior year abroad, in areas of concentration for language and culture, senior year with first semester focus on rural poverty in the Berkshires…. all with paid for summer programs that attach students to the peace corps, USAID, and/ international corporations, and/or US Embassies overseas. Something that dynamic. Where Williams truly uses its connectons and influence to reach into other worlds. How cool would that be?

I mean think of it, studying French one year and going to France, followed by a summer in Chad working for the ambassador there, with a focus on Darfur, followed by an internship with the Red Cross working on the ground in an area of interest. Etc etc etc. Education has not kept up with human beings ability to travel and transfer information. There is absolutely no reason to sit in the library at Williams to be educated by the institution. Not unless you want to play ball.

#5 Comment By sophmom On January 19, 2009 @ 10:49 am

David,

I agree with Rory about the Tyng, and want to add that it is wrong of you to suggest that the african american students accepted at Williams are less than qualified, and that they might not have been accepted if there had been a bigger pool from which to draw.

Williams is a very particular place, and there are lots of reasons why it may or may not appeal to a student, regardless of their color. I know an african american family whose student just graduated, an amazing kid who chose Williams over a couple of the other elites, flourished there, and loved it. I imagine if the family saw what you wrote, they would shake their heads in disbelief. Actually, knowing them, they’d probably force a chuckle…maybe even make a quip about legacy alums.

Now, that said, I don’t want to hear any facts and data about test scores and dissatisfied students. I read the reports, and I absolutely will not argue about it. Please. That stuff should be used to make things better for future students, not insult past or present ones.

#6 Comment By rory On January 19, 2009 @ 10:56 am

sophmom–i didn’t even notice the dig at the qualifications of african american students at williams. thanks for the forceful reminder and to honor your request, i won’t bother going over (again) how oversimplified and frustrating David’s concept of qualified/merit is.

ptc–an interesting proposal and idea for a more experiential college experience. One that I think would be as cool as you propose. However, I doubt one school could do it alone…but were the NESCACs to team up and offer it as a mult-school collaboration (or even the little three + swarthmore, or whatever), that would be an amazing educational experience…like what Hampshire college is supposed to be for the five school consortium, but more experiential and not a whole college!

#7 Comment By jeffz On January 19, 2009 @ 1:58 pm

Yeah, in honor of what is happening this week in our country, how about a hiatus on race-related posts for awhile DK? THAT is change I can believe in.

#8 Comment By ’10 (a different one) On January 19, 2009 @ 2:45 pm

sophmom – does this cycle really need to keep repeating itself? It happens every week or so, and it’s getting a bit tiresome. Dave says something unquestionably true (black students at Williams are, on average, a bit less academically distinguished than other students) and follows it with a fairly uncontroversial opinion – it would be nice if that gap could be eliminated. Then someone else, full of righteous anger and apparently confused about the distinction between aggregate data and individual anecdote (this time it was you, but there are a few people who do this regularly), comes in and twists Dave’s words into a personal attack on a particular person, or family, or whatever.

Why is it so hard to accept that the data are accurate, and that for every above-average black Eph (and no one’s denying that there are many such people) there’s at least one correspondingly below-average? Yes, everyone is a unique and beautiful snowflake, but people do have qualities which can be measured, those measurements do mean something, and when they aggregate to show significant achievement differences across racial lines, it indicates that maybe we should start thinking about how to fix the situation, and not just put our heads in the sand while feigning offense every time the subject is brought up.

#9 Comment By sophmom On January 19, 2009 @ 4:03 pm

10:

Dave didn’t say that african american students are “a bit less academically distinguished”, he said …

that Williams has little choice but to accept many African-American applicants who we would not accept were they Chinese-American.

If you don’t get how this is insulting to the african american students that are accepted at Williams, and more importantly, how DK’s exact same point could have been made without a comment like this, then far be it from me to explain. Perhaps Rory or someone else can do that.

Besides, today is Martin Luther King Day, and the inaugural festivities of our first african american president are in full swing. I am in a joyful mood, and very, very far from the “righteous anger” of which you accuse me.

#10 Comment By hwc On January 19, 2009 @ 4:19 pm

If you don’t get how this is insulting to the african american students that are accepted at Williams…

Justice Thomas does believe it’s insulting to African Americans. That is precisely the argument he uses to oppose affirmative action.

#11 Comment By David On January 19, 2009 @ 4:40 pm

’10 asks:

David, I always had you pegged as someone anti affirmative action. Did I miss a few posts along the line?

Not really. Many people would assume that I am anti-affirmative action because I do so much truth-telling about the actual magnitude of the boost that African-American students receive. Most people who are pro-affirmative action and know this truth (read: the Williams Administration) refuse to tell the truth to outsiders.

Yet I am not anti-affirmative action (meaning I am ready to treat identical-but-for-their-race applicants differently solely because of the color of their skin) for many of the same reasons that Rory or Sophmom might cite. But I demand an explicit discussion of the costs and benefits of the policy. How much of a boost do we give to African-American applicants? How much should we give? These are important questions which I insist on addressing.

[Side note: I first became politically radicalized at Williams when some fellow Ephs insisted that Williams did not practice affirmative action. That seemed to me (and was, in fact) an absurd claim, but I still got in all sorts of trouble for arguing against it. In those long-ago Record op-ed pieces, I even admitted that I was in favor of affirmative action. I just insisted that we recognize reality and note that Williams practices it.]

#12 Comment By sophmom On January 20, 2009 @ 3:19 am

To 10 (a different one) @ comment #8:

I’m just curious…you seem to pay attention to Ephblog, especially if you’re able to note that “tiresome” behavior is happening “every week or so”, and I do recall you showed up just the other day to chastise Professor Crane and Rory on another thread (which coincidentally touched on diversity as well), and yet I don’t find any participation from you other than that. There is another ’10’ who comments fairly regularly, but I realize you are the “different one”, and not to be confused.

So long story short, [10 (a different one)] why not come around more often? And why not participate more fully in the conversation, especially since you have a desire to “fix the situation(s)”, and “take heads (out of) the sand”… “aggregate data and individual anecdote” notwithstanding?

#13 Comment By ’10 (the same as #8) On January 20, 2009 @ 5:33 am

sophmom: there are a number of different people who post under the name ’10, including me, most of the time. I didn’t use it this time because someone else had already posted in this thread using that name, but generally I think I’m responsible for 70% or so of the comments labeled as ’10. (you seem to have subconsciously noticed this, since you associated the comment about Prof. Crane with me even though it was just posted as “’10” :-).

In retrospect, the comment I wrote above didn’t have quite the tone I was going for, so let me try again. I think the following two facts account for a good portion of the reasons Ephblog never manages to have constructive dialog on diversity issues:
1. Every so often, DK says something really stupid, or at least very poorly expressed so as to seem stupid, and then spends a lot of words on disingenuously defending himself rather than admitting his mistake.
2. As a result of (1), people tend to interpret all of DK’s statements in the worst of all possible lights, even though the vast majority of said statements are both true and well-intentioned.

For example, I honestly see nothing remotely offensive about stating that in order to maintain reasonable diversity, Williams is currently forced by the nature of its applicant pool to accept black students that it would not accept if they were Chinese-American (i.e., Williams has lower standards for admitting black students than students of other races). It’s a simple truth. Blacks admitted to Williams are, on average, less qualified academically than the rest of the student body (of course they may be better qualified in other ways – life experiences and so forth). Since, all other things equal, Williams admits students with higher academic qualifications over students with lower qualifications, it follows that if in the future more blacks with higher qualifications applied to Williams, others with lesser qualifications who are currently accepted would not be (although that was your phrasing, not DK’s, and it seems to me a little shaky because it assumes that Williams has already hit an upper bound on the number of black students it’s willing to admit, making black admissions a zero-sum game). But barring the last, these statements are not controversial, and I honestly can’t imagine how any of them can be legitimately seen as offensive (I know that they are seen as offensive by some, but I can only chalk that up to either confusion or false indignation).

To offer a personal analogy, my home state is not known for having great schools, and on average, students from my state score relatively quite poorly on standardized tests. Yet it doesn’t offend me when someone mentions that fact – I don’t take it personally just because I happen to be a member of a group which is below-average overall. Similarly I can’t see how a black Eph could take any kind of offense when someone points out that black Ephs are, in general, academically below-average (albeit not hugely so). Statements about the general properties of a group are not personal attacks on individual members of that group, and shouldn’t be interpreted that way unless you have good reason to believe that it’s really the intent of the person making the statements. In this case, I see no reason to believe that DK has anything personal against black Ephs (if anything, the opposite – he’s proposing to give them more money!).

My issue with Prof. Crane was similar. DK was making a fairly reasonable, and probably true, technical argument about how Williams over-reports diversity numbers, and instead of engaging the argument, Prof. Crane saw fit instead to attack DK as not liking, wanting, or understanding diversity, based presumably on some of his past statements (although having read Ephblog for the past few years, I personally have not gotten that impression, which makes me think that again this is an issue of interpretation and of impugning the worst possible motives based only on a few stupid statements). I really don’t see why it’s so hard to just engage the arguments actually being made, rather than dredging up old debates and making personal accusations (in Prof. Crane’s case) or taking offense where almost certainly none was intended (in the case of this thread).

#14 Comment By rory On January 20, 2009 @ 9:20 am

so much sound and fury, such a simple response:

the metric used to define “merit” is flawed. David uses said metric over and over again without questioning its inherent flaws and biases. As such, he ends up at technically true things “if chinese american, then not accepted” that sound damning but if placed into a more appropriate context (do they add to williams? do they benefit from williams? why might they have lower test scores and GPA but still be perfectly capable and strong students?) are nowhere near damning. Or replace chinese american with “legacy” and suddenly, it’s a different boat. Or “tipped athlete”. It’s a loaded and false dichotomy.

’10, if you follow this blog back years (to be fair, it started before you were even an eph, judging by your screen name), you’ll see the same arguments prompted the same way by DK over and over and over again. It has exhausted many. Many smarter people have quit ephblog because they are exhausted/irritated by the repetition. Some, like me, can’t help ourselves but bloviate in response. After about 4 or 5 years of this self-imposed frustration, every now and again, someone tries to make light of it (Sam) or gets a little righteous.

Whatever your views on race and admissions and college are, hopefully you can appreciate how baited some of us feel and how occasionally, that leads to snark. And, frankly, David brings it upon himself many times…just look at his (unbelievably unnecessary) dig at the MCC in his buses to inauguration thread.

#15 Comment By hwc On January 20, 2009 @ 9:47 am

’10:

I appreciated your post #13. Thanks.

Welcome to the world of political correctness. As you have discovered, EphBlog does not permit commenting on issues related to African Americans or “multiculturalism” unless you parrot the accepted dogma. You will be shouted down merely for failing to use the accepted verbiage.

It’s hard to single out EphBlog, which is merely reflecting a broader national political correctness code banning such discussions.

#16 Comment By Ronit On January 20, 2009 @ 10:40 am

The faint sound you hear is the world’s tiniest violin, playing just for the oppressed hwc.

#17 Comment By sophmom On January 20, 2009 @ 10:51 am

@ 16:
LOL, I thought I heard something.

@ 13:
Thanks for chiming in. Rory’s response is good for me. And, BTW, as for telling one 10 from another? I have special powers, but it will be our secret, okay?

The parades are more than drowning out the mini violin. Gotta go.