Diversity Discriminates

Ashley Thorne

Russell K. Nieli, an NAS member and lecturer in the Politics Department at Princeton University, has an excellent new essay at Minding the Campus on “How Diversity Punishes Asians, Poor Whites, and Lots of Others.” He draws attention to a new study on admissions at elite colleges and universities by Princeton sociologists Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Radford.  

“If nothing else the new Espenshade/Radford study helps to document what knowledgeable observers have long known: "diversity" at competitive colleges today involves a politically engineered stew of different groups, drawn from the ingredients selected by reigning campus ideology,” Nieli writes. He draws on Peter Wood’s book Diversity: The Invention of a Concept to set up the historical context for the rise of the campus diversity movement. Nieli then extracts three simple points from the study, which is based on data collected from eight top colleges and universities by the National Study of College Experience (NSCE).  

First, colleges make it harder for Asian students than any other race to be admitted. “To have the same chances of gaining admission as a black student with an SAT score of 1100, an Hispanic student otherwise equally matched in background characteristics would have to have a 1230, a white student a 1410, and an Asian student a 1550.” Meanwhile, black and Hispanic students are given an admissions “boost” over white and Asian students – the rationale colleges give for this practice is the quixotic ideal “diversity,” which is said to have educational benefits. Nieli points out that these advantages for black and Hispanic students and obstacles for Asian students make colleges’ double dealing plain—even though institutions consistently deny using racial minimums or ceilings. 

Second, poor white students have less of a chance of being admitted than other white students. This is because colleges want to reserve spots and scholarships for minority students. According to the Espenshade/Radford study, “lower-class Asian applicants are seven times as likely to be accepted to the competitive private institutions as similarly qualified whites, lower-class Hispanic applicants eight times as likely, and lower-class blacks ten times as likely.” Colleges are essentially saying, “if you can’t give us money or diversity, we don’t want you.” Skeptics of race-based affirmative action often advocate class-based affirmative action instead, which would be race-blind but would still primarily aid minority students. France practices this, but at U.S. elite universities, class-based affirmative action is limited to non-white students.  

Third, the educational benefits of “diversity” in general apparently don’t apply to students who participate in “red state” groups such as ROTC, 4-H (Head, Heart, Hands, and Health), or Future Farmers of America (FFA). The Espenshade/Radford study found that students involved in these programs had “60 or 65 percent lower odds of admission” (emphasis mine) at selective institutions; while participation in community service, the performing arts, “cultural diversity” activities, and other “blue state” endeavors substantially improved students’ chances of admission. Colleges have decided that the only “diversity” they are interested in has to do with race. Diversity of experience doesn’t matter, as Nieli observes: 

Most elite universities seem to have little interest in diversifying their student bodies when it comes to the numbers of born-again Christians from the Bible belt, students from Appalachia and other rural and small-town areas, people who have served in the U.S. military, those who have grown up on farms or ranches, Mormons, Pentecostals, Jehovah's Witnesses, lower-middle-class Catholics, working class "white ethnics," social and political conservatives, wheelchair users, married students, married students with children, or older students first starting out in college after raising children or spending several years in the workforce. 

Nieli concludes, “It is hard to explain this development other than as a case of ideological and cultural bias.” The nation at large has adopted the perspective embraced by academia—that white and Asian people are “privileged” and should have their opportunities for success checked. In reality, non-white and non-Asian people are the ones getting an unfair advantage. 

If we are aiming to get to the point where race does not dictate our chances of success, then as Jennifer Gratz recently testified, “determining based on someone’s race who gets into a university, and picking and choosing winners and losers based on skin color, does not get us there.” The American Civil Rights Initiative has launched a campaign called Decline to State Race, which encourages Americans not to check the race information boxes on government forms. On the Decline to State Race website Ward Connerly writes that “If we get rid of the race boxes, we rid ourselves of all the evils of race by taking the government out of the race business.” 

Nieli as well urges elite colleges to “get out of the race business altogether” and “focus on recruiting the most intelligent, most creative, and most energetic of the rising generation of young people.” A novel idea indeed. 

Dr. Nieli’s Minding the Campus article has received notice from Instapundit, Phi Beta Cons, PLF Liberty Blog, Speak Up blog, and the NAS blog. In July 2009 NAS published Dr. Nieli’s extended essay, “Selling Merit Down the River,” a critique of three pro-affirmative action books. Nieli is the author of “Unworldly Diversity,” published in the special Racial Preferences issue of NAS’s journal Academic Questions.

7/19/10 UPDATE: Ross Douthat wrote about Dr. Nieli's article in the New York Times this Sunday in "The Roots of White Anxiety." 

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