The New York Times covered racial enrollment trends at elite colleges. Key previous posts here, here, here and here. Let’s discuss these trends for 5 days. Today is Day 2.

What counts as Hispanic?

Recall this 2005 comment:

[Mr. Pallo, my college counselor] suggested that, on the Common Applications, I identify myself as Puerto Rican.

Depending on how you reckon, to say I am Puerto Rican is a half-truth or completely untrue. My mother was born there and raised in NYC since age six or so, and my father couldn’t be called anything but Caucasian. On other surveys, I’d sometimes checked the Puerto Rican and White boxes, sometimes just White.

I was bothered by Mr. Pallo’s suggestion, but I’d learned to trust him, and my parents supported his suggestion. A year ago, in fact, they had asked if I would use my mother’s maiden name, Reyes, hyphenated with my last name, Landsman, in my applications. I had flatly refused that. Needless to say, when I discussed my counselor’s suggestion with them, they supported him.

I asked Mr. Pallo if I could check both boxes. He responded with something along the lines of: “My fear is that that would be passed over, that someone would see ‘White’ and ‘Puerto Rican’ would be ignored.” After little more deliberation, I decided to trust him, and count it a small cost. So in that one question, I was Puerto Rican, though nothing else in my applications referred to that status.

Sure enough, I was admitted to Williams. Early freshman year, I received a letter from the Admissions Office. It stated that I had declared myself a minority on my application, specifically Puerto Rican. It asked if I still wanted to be considered so, and if not, to contact them and say otherwise. I thought about this a while. I did not particularly feel Puerto Rican, never have, and still don’t. Mom only spoke Spanish at home when she was being cute, or angry at us. I am not close with my PR family. But I saw no reason to take what I saw as a small risk of some kind of retribution, and I left Admissions with its original impressions.

So I was one of the however many “Latinos” in my year, though I doubt anyone at Williams outside of Bascom knew it.

For the class of 2016, Williams claimed (pdf) 78 Hispanics in a US student population of 516, or 15%. You can look up the names of the graduates in the 2016-2017 course catalog. Check them out! You will find lots of names that are, incontestably, Hispanic: Raventos, Cendejas, Partida and so on. But (sadly?), there are only 55 last names that are more likely than not Hispanic and only another 6 that are often Hispanic: Castellano, Moran, Sime, and so on. But 61 is not 78!

Part of the explanation, of course, is that Hispanic students are more likely to drop out than other students. But it would hardly be surprising if the scenario described above — Hispanic as far as the Williams Administration is concerned but just another white kid as far as your fellow students know — describes 20% of the Hispanic population at Williams.

Not that there is anything wrong with that!

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