Monday, March 10, 2014

The myth of the minority student

It probably won't surprise you to find out that US universities highlight racial diversity in their brochures and other marketing materials.  Universities value their diversity, promote it as a competitive advantage, and use marketing materials like these to further attract minority candidates. 

But there are some interesting nuances in this phenomenon that I thought I would share with you today.  Two recent studies came to my attention that I thought were very interesting, in part because I wonder if they show that this is a poor, or at best misleading, practice.  One recent study looked at 10,000 photographs from 165 4-year US. The found that the whiter the student body at the college, the more more often images of minorities were featured in the marketing materials. This is the misleading part. 

Another study, this one from Australia, found that seeing underrepresented minorities in a university brochure made the white students feel better about the school, but made the minority students feel worse.  The authors speculate that the minority students see the university as being manipulative and dishonest.  How is minority representation ever going to increase to where it should be if we walk around thinking it already is?

I remember hearing some time ago that a university had Photoshopped minority students into its promotional brochures because none of their organically produced photos had any (or at least not enough).  While this might be an "ethically challenged" way to fix the short term problem, the best thing to do is to attract more minority applicants, support them better while they are students, and eliminate the need for the term "underrepresented minority" to exist in the first place.

Ya think?