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Identify With Us

Inside Higher Ed reports:

The election of Barack Obama — African American because of his African father, distinguishing him from how the phrase is commonly used — has brought unprecedented attention to the diversity of backgrounds of those covered by the term. Within higher education, one of the more sensitive issues in discussion of admissions and affirmative action in recent years has been the relative success of immigrant black Americans compared to black people who have been in the United States for generations.

A new study has found that among high school graduates, “immigrant blacks” — defined as those who immigrated to the United States or their children — are significantly more likely than other black Americans to attend selective colleges. In fact, immigrant black Americans are more likely than white students to attend such colleges.

In 2003, at a reunion of black alumni of Harvard University, Lani Guinier, a law professor, was quoted by The Boston Globe as raising the question of whether black students who are “voluntary immigrants” should be the beneficiaries of affirmative action.

“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.”

Indeed. We discussed the Guinier argument a two years ago. Investigating the numbers at Williams would make for an interesting Record article. A similar argument applies to some Williams faculty. Back in the day, my friends in the BSU would not have been happy to see the College categorize someone as “African-American” if he were an immigrant with no familial connection to American slavery. Perhaps times have changed since then . . .

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#1 Comment By frank uible On March 25, 2009 @ 7:36 am

With the passage of time connection to American slavery has become increasingly tenuous. The Emancipation Proclamation occurred 146 years ago. Many other factors must be much more relevant.

#2 Comment By JeffZ On March 25, 2009 @ 8:15 am

Frank, I don’t think 146 years is the relevant time frame. Even 100 years after that Proclamation was signed, discrimination against the ancestors of those slaves was still legal.

#3 Comment By frank uible On March 25, 2009 @ 8:25 am

Then let’s focus on the nature and extent of recent discrimination and not long ago slavery.

#4 Comment By rory On March 25, 2009 @ 9:33 am


those of us who support active efforts to ameliorate persistent racial inequality do. Those who support a position more of “benign neglect” talk of slavery.

this is another moment where the terrain changes based on what criticism of diversity a conservative wants to use. Normally, they say “stop talking about discrimination! the supreme court said it’s about the benefits of diversity, not the negative effects of discrimination.” However, when these demographic shifts are noted, they point out that the beneficiaries of much of affirmative action and similar programs are not the descendants of those we directly discriminated against (as though racism is a purely national problem).

on the article itself–the logistic regression models on page 84 are quite interesting and show that the story is different when we look at selective colleges (in short: native black students had an advantage at selective schools. immigrant blacks are more likely to enroll due to socioeconomic background differences). i also always wish that they’d supplement this type of work in which they group 1st and 2nd generation students as “immigrants”. unfortunately, they had to do that because there were so few immigrant blacks in the sample (theirs was from the early 1990s and not stratified by race).

#5 Comment By frank uible On March 25, 2009 @ 10:19 am

Shouldn’t the primary factor for granting any admission favoritism at the Williams Admission Office be the extent of lack in quality schooling which has been made available to the applicant in question?

#6 Comment By JG On March 25, 2009 @ 11:01 am


#7 Comment By frank uible On March 25, 2009 @ 12:22 pm

Why not?

#8 Comment By JG On March 25, 2009 @ 2:11 pm

Why so?

#9 Comment By frank uible On March 25, 2009 @ 3:18 pm

Very good students from “bad” schools (and there are a whole lot of such students) will very much tend to come from “poor” circumstances in “poor” neighborhoods or “poor” regions with the vast majority of the life experiences on their behalfs having been with the lower middle class or below and thus would add a good deal of socio-economic variety to the campus, which for the most part it would not have without them – all for its benefit while maintaining the academic integrity of the institution.

#10 Comment By JG On March 25, 2009 @ 6:00 pm

Absolutely true and I agree that those students are important. My concern is just setting something up as the “primary” consideration, because it is too limiting.

There are very good students who have all of the other characteristics you listed above but happen to live find a way into a “good” school (magnet school, scholarship to an expensive private school, ability to do the long bus ride to get there paired with a persuasive parent/teacher, etc). I think those students should get the same leg up even though they were lukcy enough to find an opportunity for a “good” high school.

I think looking at all those other factors and not “just” racial/ethnic identification is important. There is something to be gained from a diverse student body, but diversity should be measured not (just) in how it looks but at a deeper level.

It’s nice to agree with you (mostly) on something Frank!

#11 Comment By frank uible On March 25, 2009 @ 7:39 pm

Primary to other possible factors which occur to me such as legacies, tips, etc.