A new study reveals that black high school students who are actively fighting racism might have a harder time getting into colleges with white admissions counselors because ... Wait? Did you even read the first part of that sentence?
Ted Thornhill is a sociology professor at Florida Gulf Coast University whose research “examines color-blind ideology and new racism practices across social institutions and settings,” according to his bio at Academia. He recently completed a research project on the admissions practices of white college admissions counselors employed at 517 colleges and universities across the country.
The study (pdf), published in the American Sociology Association’s journal notes that approximately 80 percent of college admissions counselors at historically predominately white universities are white and are therefore, not exempt to the same negative racial biases that studies have shown affect employers, educators and the public at large.
To demonstrate how admission counselors treat black activist high school students, Thornhill removed grades, standardized testing from the equation by observing counselors’ responses to email inquiries. He created four different profiles of black students and sent them to university counselors to evaluate the responses to each student profile.
The emails contained a simple, self-described summary from each student and asked if the counselor thought the student might fit at their college. So Thornhill sent these emails out to 517 college-admissions counselors and waited for the replies. The descriptions in the emails were as follows:
- The nondescript black student: This student’s email said he or she excelled in English and math, worked on the school newspaper, played in the marching band and tutored at an after-school program. Although it was not stated in the email, this student probably wore a lot of graphic tees. Probably alternated between Nikes and Vans.
- The black environmentalist: Interested in pursuing a degree in biology or environmental science, this student’s email revealed that he or she was an activist, but mainly in the environmental arena. The student participated in greenhouse planning and wanted to continue their activism in college. Only Hemp clothing and sustainable fabrics for this kid with those Vibram five-toed shoes.
- The Racial unifier: Although this student was interested in black culture, it was mainly limited to history and promoting racial harmony. Their activities included playing in the jazz band and singing in the gospel choir. Definitely owned a button-ups and polo shirts that tucked neatly into khakis. Wears running shoes.
- The activist: This student’s email says they have “a strong passion for issues of racial justice and African American culture and politics.” The email explained that he or she participated in community workshops about white privilege, social justice, microaggressions and institutional racism. Although it was unsaid, we can safely assume this student owns at least one dashiki.
The study found that counselors responded to the “racially salient” emails (the environmentalist and the nondescript black student) 65 percent of the time. The racial unifier and the activist only received responses 55 percent of the time. He also found that there was a strong gender bias on both sides.
According to the study, while white male and female counselors disliked the activist narrative, white men “were nearly 25 percent less likely than female counselors to respond to e-mails containing the antiracist [activist] narrative.”
Thornhill’s study also found that there was only bias when the counselors thought the student was a black male, noting that black girls were significantly more likely than boys to receive responses, “irrespective of counselor gender and narrative type.” But that’s because white female counselors were much more willing to accept activist black female students than activist black male students (a difference of 22 percentage points).
So what does this all mean?
Well, considering the fact that colleges and universities are, by definition, institutions, combined with the fact that a “racial prejudice or discrimination” is the textbook definition of “racism,” then Thornhill has revealed yet another example of institutional racism.
And I know there are some who will say: “We already knew this!”
First of all, peer-reviewed research is different from gut feelings. White people feel like their country is being taken over by “the blacks and the Mexicans,” and feel like Trump could make it great again.
We already knew that white people felt uneasy when anyone indicated a willingness to speak out about racism but now there is inarguable proof. Even though the prevailing narrative is that America need to have “a conversation about race,” Thornhill’s study proves that there is a statistically provable effort to shut that conversation down.
Despite his new research, Thornhill’s study didn’t create a new word to describe the fact that high school students who are vocal about racial inequality find it less difficult to get a response from college admissions counselors. There is, however, an academic term for this phenomenon...
But I understand why Thornhill didn’t use this when he emailed academic journals about his study ...
He probably wouldn’t have received a response.