February 1, 2007

On "diversity purists" and "vulnerability to stereotype threat."

Here's a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education (the link will be good for 5 days for nonsubscribers):
More than a quarter of the black students enrolled at selective American colleges and universities are immigrants or the children of immigrants, according to a new paper by sociologists at Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania.

The finding suggests that native-born African-American students are even more underrepresented at selective colleges than is commonly understood. The paper is likely to add fuel to a long-standing debate about the meaning and purpose of affirmative-action programs.

Selective colleges have expanded their enrollments of black students by "increasing the number of immigrant and multiracial black students," Camille Z. Charles, an associate professor of sociology at Penn who is one of the study's authors, said in an interview on Wednesday.

"If you're a purist" -- that is, if you view affirmative action as restitution for the harm done by American slavery and segregation -- "then you'll think that this is not in the spirit of affirmative action," Ms. Charles continued. "But if you're a diversity purist, and your idea is to expose everybody to as many different kinds of people as possible, then you'll think this is great."
Will you? And what exactly is a "diversity purist"?
At the most selective of the 28 schools, the ratios for non-native black students were even higher. The study included four Ivy League universities -- Columbia, Penn, Princeton, and Yale -- and at those universities, 41 percent of black students were first- or second-generation immigrants.
E.g., Barack Obama.
"There are differences in racial identity among black students," Ms. Charles said. "In terms of their vulnerability to stereotype threat, it's certainly possible that students who don't identify strongly with an African-American identity don't experience that kind of anxiety."

"On the other hand, it's possible that even though they don't identify themselves a certain way, they realize that other people might be pigeonholing them. So it could go either way. That's what we're trying to parcel out."
The first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. Parcel that out!

Are you getting more diversity or less if you've got a system that skews toward those who have less "vulnerability to stereotype threat"?

16 comments:

Simon said...

I'm all in favor of diversity. I just don't think that, in a world where people are not "judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character," if you put six people in a room who all agree with each other but who're different colors or from different countries, that "diversity" is what you've got.

SteveR said...

Wow: no comment other than Blogger, let me into see the comments and then let into "Post a Comment"

This is almost like pre-New Blogger.

"You can also use your Blogger account" The hell you can

Richard Dolan said...

Apart from the inane locutions that Ann highlights, the article has a few other interesting features. Two jumped out at me.

First, one of the study's authors notes, without noticeably irony, that "social scientists and policy makers too often fail to appreciate the heterogeneity in the black population in America." Well, yes, like any such effort at social engineering, the categories are quite crude; use of such crude categories often results in unintended, often unfair, consequences. The author goes on to note that such "heterogeneity" can result in a failure to compare "apples to apples." Well, yes again. I suspect that the only way to avoid that problem is to reduce the "apple" here to an individual.

The second point was that factors conventionally thought to be highly predictive of academic success don't seem to work here. Specifically, the author notes that the immigrant black students "were much more likely than native born black students to have at least one parent who has earned an advanced degree," "were significantly less likely to have grown up in segregated black neighborhoods" and "had significantly higher average SAT scores than did native-born black students." But "[t]hose advantages do not seem to translate into stronger performance at college."

The study intends to investigate "how perceived ethnic identity affects students' academic performance."

Perhaps a better subject for investigation would be whether an academic ethos that forces students to make ethnicity paramount, rather than the activity that they presumably share with all other students (the pursuit of one's studies?), accounts for the results that these authors find odd. Affirmative action as presently practiced on campus comes with lots of externalities, almost all of them quite negative. The phenomena observed by the authors of this study may well be just one more. It's all just further proof that good intentions are never enough to make bad policy worthwhile: as one of the educators in another article featured today sums it up, a bleeding heart just makes a huge mess on the carpet.

Mortimer Brezny said...

Like I keep saying, these non-native Americans aren't real Negroes. And the only justification for affirmative action is restitution to descendants of actual slaves.

Simon said...

Mort,
I presume that you're not sayint that restitution is a valid (or functional) justification for affirmative action, just noting that it is sometimes offered as a justification and seems the most credible?

The Drill SGT said...

Colin Powell, son of immigrants

immigrants overall are a better group of folks than your average citizen from the perspective of motivation and drive to succeed. Most come to America with a strong sense of purpose and a will to build a better future for their kids.

Al Maviva said...

"If you're a purist" -- that is, if you view affirmative action as restitution for the harm done by American slavery and segregation -- "then you'll think that this is not in the spirit of affirmative action," Ms. Charles continued.

This is an expressly extralegal rationale for affirmative action which the Supreme Court has rejected in a number of contexts (such as government contracting) as well as in the higher ed context (Grutter & Gratz, Bakke).

The current justification permitting the use of racial preferences, on which the Court hung a couple hats, is that diversity of background and opinions improves the quality of the educational process, leading to better outcomes for the students and society. So good, so far, I wouldn't disagree with that, but the Court so held in a case approving of racial preferences, thus it validated the notion that skin color is a close enough approximation of world view, that schools could admit students based largely on skin color in order to achieve that magical state, diversity.

As one of those unenlightened right wing types who thinks we AmeriKKKans probably need to stop dividing ourselves based on skin color and the languages our parents spoke, and focus more on our common beliefs, I find it difficult to suppress a big "up yours" after reading this article. Preferences advocates wanted a justification for "positive" discrimination based on skin color, they got it. Now they're unhappy with it. What ought we to do? Define some people as blacker than others based on skin color? Should that take into account the effects of time spent at the beach, or alternately in the dank recesses of a library? Should we divide black applicants to colleges based on their or their parents' national origin? (Whoops, couple equal protection problems there, too).

I think we need to improve everybody's access to better quality education. Establishing a national standard for doing so based on skin color, however, strikes me as patently wrong.

Compare/contrast the discussion of Barack Obama and "authentic blackness."

Slocum said...

Are you getting more diversity or less if you've got a system that skews toward those who have less "vulnerability to stereotype threat"?

It's not just that 40% of minority students at the Ivies are immigrants or children of immigrants but even for the other minority students, that population trends toward the LEAST disadvantaged -- that is, minority children from better off families with educated parents. The same, of course, is true of white and asian students--students of all colors and races at Ivy League schools tend to come from relatively privileged backgrounds.

The bottom line is that elite colleges cannot simultaneously admit a diverse, representative cross-section of Americans (especially in socioeconomic terms) and, at the same time, try to maximize their US News rankings by admitting the candidates with the highest possible grades and test scores. And it's pretty obvious that elitism is the highest value and they try to achieve a some level of apparent diversity (e.g. skin color) within those bounds.

exhelodrvr said...

"diversity purist"? Isn't that an oxymoron?

We keep getting told not to judge people on the basis of ethnicity, skin color, etc. and yet they keep making a big deal out of Obama, Dungy, et al.

TMink said...

Reminds me of the High School that elected an immigrant from South Africa for their African American student of the year. The school refused to give him the award: he was whiter than I. But still an African-American.

The school was not interested in African Americans, they wanted black kids to get the award. After that year, they canceled the award.

Trey

Balfegor said...

Are you getting more diversity or less if you've got a system that skews toward those who have less "vulnerability to stereotype threat"?

I don't think such a system intrinsically favours more or less diversity. In this particular case, I think it (clearly) favours more genuine diversity, since you get people from the Caribbean and from the various quite different populations of sub-Saharan Africa (e.g. the Igbo are very different from, say, the Maasai and Zulu cultures, and all those quite dramatically different from the Amhara or Tigre). On the other hand, I can see how it would favour less diversity, if the local population was ethnically and culturally more diverse than the population back home. I can't think of any real example of that, at least on an historical timeframe, but I imagine it's possible. For all the "heterogeneity" the Black population in the US may have (and I know that, linguistically at least, there is real and heterogeneity in African-American Vernacular English/AAVE, even though to most ears it sounds like one common dialect), it's nothing compared to the broad spectrum of human diversity Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America have to offer.

On the other hand, if what you want is a spectrum of "diversity" that reflects America or "looks like America," then this doesn't really work. You're getting the world, and the world doesn't particularly look like America.

This also doesn't work -- on the cynical side -- if you want affirmative-action mostly to pacify the native African-American population so they don't explode into murderous violence (as with Malaysia, where affirmative-action for the natives was introduced largely because the natives launched a pogrom against the Chinese, who were getting all the good jobs and all the spots at university and, ultimately, all the money; now the natives get spots set aside for them). Here, as there, if the system is working out in favour of immigrants and their children, and not the natives and their children, it's not likely to improve your relations with the natives. The same thing holds with native-immigrant relations generally, actually.

vbspurs said...

The school was not interested in African Americans, they wanted black kids to get the award. After that year, they canceled the award.

A Portuguese girl I knew was born in Mozambique.

When she applied to the local University "African American Student Union", they accepted her, but made her feel so horrible, she stopped going to the events.

She was African, but not black.

Poor old Barack Obama, man.

African, black, American, but somehow, to some people, none of the above.

Cheers,
Victoria

Dust Bunny Queen said...

"In terms of their vulnerability to stereotype threat, it's certainly possible that students who don't identify strongly with an African-American identity don't experience that kind of anxiety."

In other words the "black" students from other parts of the world haven't been indoctrinated and conditioned to the anxiety of victim hood. They haven't been made aware of and become accepting of their lower oppressed position in society. Perhaps because they are not identifying with this, they actually go on to achieve above and beyond the accepted norm.

AKA: the Obama phenomenon

igbalonigbanlo said...

TMink: considering that apartheid didn't end in south africa till 1990, i'm not sure your white south african kid qualifies simply because I'm not sure white south africans considered (and if one were to be honest about it consider -present tense) themselves africans unless there's a benefit to it.

That said those who do like in vbspurs example should not be treated as outcasts but then again i've come to realize it's just easier to prejudge than to get to know people or presume innocence. Even us black africans are not particularly welcome by the native black population in this country, so many reasons for this which i'm sure most of us are aware of a few of which were tangentially touched on by balfegor. It's no big deal because like they say in Yoruba you don't leave a place where they call you king unless something is chasing you.

M. Simon said...

The Rhinocerous in this closet is ability or IQ.

There are population differences.

Other wise how do you account for American Jews? 3% of the population, 27% of the Nobel Prizes.

I'm told the Ibo are very smart.

Unfortunately as a whole African blacks average an IQ of 70. American blacks 85. This does not say there are no smart blacks. It is just that they will be fewer in number (proprtionate to population) that smart whites and much fewer than smart Jews - again allowing for population.

Which is why affirmative action (quotas) don't work if you wish to uphold standards.

Which is another reason to recruit blacks from the world population. It helps maintain quality.

TMink said...

These later posts reminded me of a course I took on Africa in college. The professor was a kind Yoruban gentleman with a thick accent. As was often the case in this type of course in the late 70s, I was the only white in the class.

I was also the only person who could understand the professor. So everyone copied my notes. Professor Harrison Akinbahd (wow, can't believe that name came out of the old noggin) found it quite amusing that the white boy was his interpreter for African American students.

Trey