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Black student activism is taking center stage when it comes to college admissions.

African-American college applicants can face obstacles with admission counselors if they express an interest in racial justice and advocacy, according to research published on Wednesday (Sept. 5) by the Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, a journal of the American Sociological Association. Predominately white, liberal arts colleges are less likely to respond to emails from student-activists, subjecting them to a screening process, the study found.

Admission counselors are also more receptive to emails from African-American prospective college students who are more “deracialized,” reported the study, titled “We Want Black Students, Just Not You: How White Admissions Counselors Screen Black Prospective Students.”

The data-gathering process was ambitious for the study. The process required examinations of the e-mail practices of 517 white college admissions counselors employed at the same number of schools, the study’s author, Ted Thornhill, a PhD and assistant professor of Sociology at Florida Gulf Coast University, said. Thornhill drafted four fictitious stories of different “types” of Black students who apply to colleges and universities; he also developed and tested a list of “racialized” names for the fake students and created accompanying e-mail addresses for them. He then came up with a sample of admission counselors who would get emails from the fake Black students to draw his conclusions.

White admissions counselors responded to non-activist Black students’ e-mails 65 percent of the time, but student-activists only 55 percent. The student-activist type stories emphasized racial solidarity and antiracist sentiments. Emails with antiracist narratives had a response rate 17% lower than the other emails that were more “deracialized,” the study found.

Summing it up, the findings mean that white admissions counselors are more likely to ignore Black prospective college students’ inquiry e-mails “if they betray an acknowledgment of the continuing significance of racism.” The finding didn’t necessarily mean that “white admissions counselors will treat these students’ applications unfavorably should they decide to apply” but that “they may be treated unfairly if they evince a rejection of color-blind ideology,” Thornhill said.

The study has already drawn interest from Howard University.


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Black Students Shut Down By Some Colleges Over Activism, Study Says  was originally published on

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