Colleges: Stop Recruiting Minority Students

Several friends were discussing with me the many recent “incidents” which news media have reported as a resurgence of racism on predominantly white campuses. All the discussants are people who are familiar with the experience of students of color on such campuses. None of them was surprised by the reports in the media. All agreed that such “incidents” are not a “resurgence of racism”, but rather the evidence of an on-going phenomenon which every student of color knows to be a part of the daily struggle in a white environment. These are simply stark instances which command public attention; if it could be proved that no one of them happened, the reality of enculturated racism is still present.

One of the concerns in our discussion was the trend in recent years which records a decreasing percentage of students of color at many colleges and universities. Inevitably, some of those who were present began to suggest how colleges could recruit more students of color. That part of the discussion was interrupted by a black person who said he finds it increasingly difficult to justify recommending to any young black friend that he/she go to a predominantly white institution of higher education. Black colleges, he claimed, show a much better record of educating black students. In the traditionally black colleges retention rates are better, graduation is more sure, and performance after graduation is better by measurable standards.[1] So why, he asked, should he urge a black student to go to a predominantly white school? When he raised this question, my friend was not trying to be a “wise guy;” he was asking a question which for him is a very real moral dilemma.

My assumption is that the question my friend poses is one which might apply for any student of color, not simply blacks. Why should we urge anyone to go into an environment which may condone a hostile or unfriendly atmosphere, and to struggle for the survival of self-respect for four years in that environment? The question becomes especially pertinent when consideration is given to alternatives present in traditionally black colleges.

Let’s declare a moratorium on the recruitment of students of color in-predominantly white colleges and universities! Let those institutions give primary attention to bringing about some foundational changes which will assure that they will be more hospitable places in which students of color can learn, without the debilitating and constant struggle against blatant or subtle forms of racism. Until those changes are institutionalized, annual recruitment budgets could be set aside, and then when the college is ready, a vigorous recruitment effort could begin. The moratorium would in effect say: “Don’t recruit more students of color until certain conditions of change are met.”

Here are some of the changes which might be required before the moratorium is


–        Demonstrate that racism and racial prejudice is a serious offense, and that racist behavior will not be tolerated, but will be punished. Put into use enforcement mechanisms that work.

–        Secure good representation of persons of color on the Board of Trustees.

–        Recruit faculty of color, and provide all necessary supports that move them toward tenure.

–        Recruit administrators of color in major positions.

–        Integrate into the curriculum multi-racial, multi-cultural concerns.

–        Provide training of faculty and of staff (security forces, resident staff, others) in the skills of authentic multi-racial relationships.

–        Introduce into the curriculum courses which examine the history and present-day functioning of racism in our society. (This is different from what is commonly called “prejudice reduction”.)

–        Revise admissions standards to include criteria which are as predictive of academic performance for students of color as present criteria are for white students.[2]

–        Put into place support mechanisms which will signify an institutional intent to retain students for graduation.

Some will say that the suggestion of a moratorium is unrealistic and it is naive to expect any such stance will be adopted by any college or university. Well, I don’t expect the moratorium to get serious consideration in many college presidents’ offices; it will not be on the agenda for the next meeting of the trustees at your favorite college! Still, it is a good idea. It reminds us of the need for a sense of urgency about the changes suggested, a sense I find missing when the issue of racism is raised in predominantly white settings. So, while the moratorium may never happen, it “ought” to happen! At the very least the idea may get the donkey’s attention!

[1] See The Traditionally Black Institutions of Higher Education, from the National Center of Education Statistics, March 1985, and read Blacks in College, by Jacqueline Fleming, Bass, 1984.

[2] See The Use of Nontraditional Predictors for Admission to the University of Maryland, College Park, by William E. Sedlacek, Counseling Center, University of Maryland.