David has often written posts about the boxes that college seniors check in the “race” category on their application to Williams College. The New York Times has a recent article on the subject:

“I just realized that my race is something I have to think about,” she wrote, describing herself as having an Asian mother and a black father. “It pains me to say this, but putting down black might help my admissions chances and putting down Asian might hurt it. My mother urges me to put down black to […] get in to the colleges I’m applying to,” added Ms. Scott … “I sort of want to do this but I’m wondering if this is morally right.”

Within minutes, a commenter had responded, “You’re black. You should own it.” Someone else agreed, “Put black!!!!!!!! Listen to your mom.” No one advised marking Asian alone. But one commenter weighed in with advice that could just as well have come from any college across the country: “You can put both. You can put one. You’re not dishonest either way. Just put how you feel.”

The article examines many parts of this complex issue. Here is an observation that hadn’t occurred to me:

Some scholars worry that the growth in multiracial applicants could further erode the original intent of affirmative action, which is to help disadvantaged minorities. For example, families with one black parent and one white parent are on average more affluent than families with two black parents. When choosing between two such applicants, some universities might lean toward the multiracial student because he will need less financial aid while still counting toward affirmative-action goals.


One of the reasons for encouraging racial diversity on campus is to expose all students to people from different backgrounds. I thought this was an interesting anecdote of Rice University’s effort to get students to explain how they would add to the campus culture:

Rice admissions officials try to reconcile whatever boxes an applicant may have checked with the rest of the application.

For example, in its customized supplement to the Common Application, Rice asks an essay question about “the unique life experiences and cultural traditions” that a student might bring.

“If they care about their cultural heritage, it comes through,” Ms. Browning said. “If they’re lukewarm about it, and they’re trying to make it something they care about, it comes through.”

This past spring, at least four applicants to Rice checked the box for nearly every ethnicity and race.

“For the most part,” Ms. Siler said, “whenever someone does all those boxes, we say, ‘Yeah, yeah, but how do you really live your life?’ “

But in the case of two of those applicants — a young woman from Hawaii who checked the boxes for Native Hawaiian, Asian-American and white, as well as a Californian who said she was white (Irish and German), black and affiliated with two American Indian tribes — Ms. Siler became convinced that the descriptions were accurate.

The Hawaiian student wrote her essay “partly in her native language” and “talked in detail about her other heritages as well,” Ms. Siler said. The Californian “discussed the influence of these various cultures on her family traditions, especially related to holidays.”

“Both students,” Ms. Siler said, “were admitted to Rice.”

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