- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) — Something in the crowd made Shirley Wilcher wonder. As a college graduate in the early 1970s, she remembered that her black classmates were, like her, born in the United States to American parents. But at an alumni reunion at Mount Holyoke College last year, she saw something different and asked for admissions data to prove it.

“My suspicions were confirmed,” said Miss Wilcher, now the executive director of the American Association for Affirmative Action. She found a rise in the number of black students from Africa and the Caribbean, and a downturn in admissions of American blacks.

A study released this year put numbers on the trend. Among students at 28 top U.S. universities, the representation of black students of first- and second-generation immigrant origin (27 percent) was about twice their representation in the national population of blacks their age (13 percent). Within the Ivy League, immigrant-origin students made up 41 percent of black freshmen.

Miss Wilcher would like to know why. She asks if her cause has lost its way on U.S. campuses, with the goal of correcting American racial injustices replaced by a softer ideal of diversity — as if any black student will do.

The study, published in the American Journal of Education, found no definitive answer as to why the change is occurring. However, “folks I know personally who have worked in admissions have told me that they weren’t surprised,” said Camille Charles, a University of Pennsylvania professor who wrote the study with three Princeton University professors.

The researchers looked at data from a national survey of 1,028 freshmen at 28 top colleges and universities in 1999. The eight-year-old material was used because it was specially designed to help find reasons for underachievement by minorities at colleges and universities.

In terms of student background, it found few differences, noting only that far more black immigrant students had fathers with college or advanced degrees than did other black students.

But the authors suggested that the reason for high proportion of immigrant students may lie in how the students are perceived.

“To white observers, black immigrants seem more polite, less hostile, more solicitous, and ‘easier to get along with,’ ” the study said. “Native blacks are perceived in precisely the opposite fashion.”

That idea immediately found detractors.

“I can’t speak for white people, but that’s crazy,” said Adoma Adjei-Brenyah, a Columbia University student with college-educated parents from Ghana.

The director of public policy for the National Association for College Admission Counseling agreed. “I reject the notion that admissions officers are somehow deliberately doing this,” David Hawkins said.

One legal analyst explained the bump in black immigrants by saying that now, decades since the civil rights movement’s peak, college diversity is aimed less at correcting American racial injustices and more at creating a variety of perspectives on campus.

Besides, “how many colleges and universities are looking to stand up and say, ‘I’m continuing not to cure the problems of the past?’ ” said Arthur Coleman, a lawyer who co-wrote “Admissions and Diversity After Michigan: The Next Generation of Legal and Policy Issues.”

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