In Diversity Push, Top Universities Enrolling More Black Immigrants

A group of students gathers literature from the West Indian Student Organization at Rutgers University in New Jersey. From left are Laury Rosefort, Rose Thibert, Nadine Bloomfield and Aleph Pantaleon.
A group of students gathers literature from the West Indian Student Organization at Rutgers University in New Jersey. From left are Laury Rosefort, Rose Thibert, Nadine Bloomfield and Aleph Pantaleon. (By Helayne Seidman For The Washington Post)
By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The nation's most elite colleges and universities are bolstering their black student populations by enrolling large numbers of immigrants from Africa, the West Indies and Latin America, according to a study published recently in the American Journal of Education.

Immigrants, who make up 13 percent of the nation's college-age black population, account for more than a quarter of black students at Ivy League and other selective universities, according to the study, produced by Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania.

The large representation of black immigrants developed as schools' focus shifted from restitution for decades of excluding black Americans from campuses to embracing wider diversity, the study's authors said. The more elite the school, the more black immigrants are enrolled.

"A lot of these institutions have been promoting the increase in their black populations, but clearly this increase reflects a growth in their black immigrant populations," said Camille Z. Charles, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania who co-authored the study.

Black American scholars such as Henry Louis Gates and Lani Guinier, two Harvard University professors, have said that white educators are skirting long-held missions to resolve historic wrongs against native black Americans by enrolling immigrants who look like them.

In an interview, Guinier said that the chasm has less to do with immigrants and more to do with admissions officers who rely on tests that wealthier students, including black immigrants, can afford to prepare for.

"In part, it has to do with coming from a country, especially those educated in Caribbean and African countries, where blacks were in the majority and did not experience the stigma that black children did in the United States," Guinier said. "The fathers of these students tend to be much better educated. This is not just true of immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean, this is true across the board. We have an admissions system that prefers wealth, that rewards wealth and calls it merit."

Officials at several top universities, including Harvard, the University of North Carolina and Princeton, did not respond to calls or e-mail messages seeking comment on the study.

The University of Pennsylvania's dean of admissions, Lee Stetson, said that although the university takes note of students' backgrounds, "we do not focus specifically on whether students are Caribbean American, African American or African. We do not involve ourselves with exact roots.

"They bring diversity to the campus," Stetson said. "We try to find students from all walks of life, including African American students who have their roots in the southeastern United States."

The study relied on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen, which included 1,028 black students, 281 of whom were immigrants. Black immigrants were defined as students who emigrated directly from Africa or the Caribbean, including countries such as Guyana that are on the South American continent and nations in the black diaspora or their American-born sons and daughters.

Stanford, Duke, Columbia, Vanderbilt and Harvard universities had the highest percentages of black students in their fall 2006 freshman classes, according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. The percentage of black freshmen at elite colleges and universities ranged from a high of 12.3 percent at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to 1.4 percent at the California Institute of Technology.

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