Posted on September 28, 2018

Colleges Favor Academics over Activism

Elisha Maldonado, Wall Street Journal, September 27, 2018


Florida Gulf Coast University sociologist Ted Thornhill wanted to study what types of black students pique the interest of admissions officers. So he sent fake email inquiries to 517 universities where the student body is predominantly white, using eight “black sounding” names, like Lakisha Lewis and Jamal Jackson. Mr. Thornhill used four different email templates in which the decoy prospective students discussed their interests and high-school records.

Mr. Thornhill described two of the template emails as “deracialized and racially apolitical.” In one, the decoy prospective student expressed an interest in English and math and discussed volunteer work as a tutor and participation in the marching band. In another, the student expressed a passion for science and extracurricular activities focused on environmentalism.

Mr. Thornhill wrote his final two templates to suggest “an interest in race-based activities.” The first of these describes involvement in a church gospel choir and interest in African-American history — meant to show awareness of race but “no direct interest in racial politics.”

The last template details the student’s “strong passion for issues of racial justice,” which include planning a workshop on “white privilege, affirmative action, colorblind racism, racial microaggresions, and institutional racism.” {snip}

Admissions officers were much more likely to respond to the students who were more serious about academics than activism. The first set of emails got a response 65% of the time, compared with 55% for the second set. The response rate for the fourth template was 48%, lower than for any of the other three.

As a self-described racism scholar, Mr. Thornhill {snip} claims the data affirms that “white gatekeepers are increasingly inclined to screen blacks to ‘weed out’ those they perceive as too concerned with race and racism.”


The study may also suggest that universities are wary of students they expect will protest and make demands. One cautionary tale is the University of Missouri, which saw a significant decrease in enrollment and public support after its widely publicized 2015 protests.