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v13_2002d - 3 NOT ’JUST BLACK’ POLICY CONSIDERATIONS...

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Unformatted text preview: 3 NOT ’JUST BLACK’ POLICY CONSIDERATIONS: THE INFLUENCE OF ETHNICITY ON PATHWAYS TO ACADEMIC SUCCESS AMONGST BLACK UNDERGRADUATES AT HARVARD UNIVERSITY Aisha Cecilia Haynie This study attempted to determine the ethnic background of 170 non—international black students who attended Harvard College during the 1999—2000 academic year, and to identify the influence ofethnicity on the paths that they took to reach Harvard. Results indicate that Harvard College enrolls a disproportionately large number ofbiracial/biethnic students, and first and second-generation immigrant students from the Caribbean and Africa. The following themes were important in establishing the influence of ethnicity on the paths that students took to reach Harvard: Self- and cultural identity patterns, the presence of opportunities to excel academically during the pre-college years, and familial educational ideolo- gies. Ethnic differences in these areas may help to explain why relatively few black American students are enrolled at Harvard College. The conclusion of this paper poses several policy recommendations that address the ethnic and racial concerns raised by this research. Aisha Cecilia Haynic, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Aflairs, Princeton University Not ’lust Black’ Policy Considerations 4] INTRODUCTION Little has been said in sociological literature about the reality of ethnic diversity within America’s black population. Research instead tends to focus on racial categories which are, in actuality, na'i'vely formed on the basis of an assumed similarity in culture derived from skin color. Over the last few decades, American sociologists have sought to decrease society’s tendency to make broad racial generalizations by arguing that differences in class between black Americans also have a great impact on formation of self-identity, status, and the presence of opportunities for social mobility (Wilson 1978). Room still remains, however, for more discussion about the role of ethnicity in determining status-attainment amongst blackAmericans. To be sure, the post—1965 mass immigration from countries in the Caribbean and Africa has added complexity to the definition of “African-American.” In fact, almost six percent of blacks currently residing in America are foreign—born, and about the same percentage are either second or third generation immigrants (Edmonston and Passe] 1994)‘. The numbers of first and second—generation Caribbean and African immigrants continue to climb, only highlighting a sociological need to reinterpret the signifi— cance of these groups within American society, and to acknowledge their struggle to maintain a cultural identity that is viewed separately from that of blacks native to the United States (Kasinitz 1992). In 2000, black students made up approximately 8 percent of the total undergraduate population at Harvard, and were identified through the college’s use of the “Common Application” form for admissions.2 On this Common Application form, there is no opportunity for a black student to express his/ her ethnic identity or country of origin, even though Asian and Latino ethnic groups are encouraged to do 50.5 All black students are forced to select the single category, ‘African—American, Black.’ With Harvard’s present system of classification, ethnic identitywithin the black student population (relative to the proportions that exist within the larger black American population) is impossible to ascertain. While attending Harvard College between 1996 and 2000, I discov- ered that within the black population, there were considerable numbers of students of biracial and Caribbean origin. Not only did I personally notice this phenomenon, but many other black students (immigrants, biracials and native blacks alike) at Harvard also believed that these various ethnic groups proportionately outnumbered the native black American popula- tion.“5 Working with the hypothesis that ethnic differences must have influenced the paths taken by black students to reach Harvard, I attempted 42 Aisha Cecilia Huynic to delve more deeply into the subject. The ultimate goal of the study was to answer two questions: 1) What are the exact ethnic proportions amongst black students at Harvard College?" and 2) Did students of different ethnic backgrounds follow different paths to get to Harvard? I believed that answering these two questions would shed light on what was perceived to be a disproportion- ately high enrollment for certain groups at the college and also increase awareness about the meaning of ethnicity within America’s black popula- tion. I formulated the design of this research project with the presumption that the ethnic disparities found in America’s black population may help to explain the ethnic composition found at Harvard. What this study did not (and could not) answer is the extent to which ethnic differences in the American population contributed towards the ethnic differences seen amongst the students at Harvard. Indeed, the strict qualifications that a Harvard student must possess in order to gain acceptance may mean that ethnic differences would not be visible at all within the population that managed to gain acceptance. Findings, however, did show that there were significant ethnic differences between black students at Harvard, and that these differences greatly influenced the paths that they took to reach Harvard.7 FINDINGS The following pages include an analysis of survey and interview data collected from black undergraduates at Harvard during the school year 1999/2000. This data was collected over a period of approximately three months (November 1999 through January 2000). There were 170 respondents who returned questionnaires, which constituted a 71.4 percent response rate. The 170 students surveyed made up approximately one-third of the non-international black student population at Harvard (32.2 percent).8 Note, however, that not all respondents answered every single question. Because of the sensitive nature of some of the questions, respondents had the option of skipping any questions that they felt uncomfortable answering. Thirty of the 170 surveyed respondents were selected for in—depth personal interview.9 Survey and interview data led to the following findings about the various black ethnic groups represented at Harvard College. Because of the limits of this analysis, it is difficult to ascertain whether proportion- ately fewer black Americans apply to Harvard in the first place, or whether proportionately fewer are accepted amongst a representative sample of applicants. In addition, the small number of black students within the Not ’lust Black' Policy Considerations 43 undergraduate population limited the scope of the quantitative analysis, which may or may not have been unduly biased by a relativelysmall sample size. Research Observations: I) BlackAmericans were proportionately outnumbered within Harvard College, relative to other ethnic groups. Survey data show that non—biracial/biethnic black Americans, making up only a little over one-third of the black student population at Harvard, were proportionately outnumbered relative to other ethnic heritage groups. 1° The second largest ethnic group was the biracial/biethnic group, with over one quarter of the black student population. Immigrants and recent descendants of immigrants were especially well—represented, with over half(55 percent) of the black student population having at least one parent or grandparent who was born overseas. Note also that the percent— ages of first and second generation students at Harvard (which comprise the Caribbean and African heritage groups) are significantly larger than in the United States as a whole (Table 2): Table 1: ‘Heritage’ of Harvard Respondents ---—-m 37.65 % 22.94 0/0 12.35 % 25.88 % 100 0/0 (N = 170) Table 2: Respondents’ Generational Status Compared to Aggregate U.S. Status Status 1" 2"d 3'd 4"‘(+) Total Generation Generation Generation Generation Percentage 8 0/0 41 % 6 % 45 % 100 % of Blacks at (N = 170) 89.7 % Harvard (%) Blacks in Americall 2) Students of recent foreign heritage haa' difl‘krent perceptions of their own identity within theAmerican societal context than those with only Projected in Year 2000 (°/o) American heritage. On the survey questionnaire, students were asked to ‘check all that apply’ amongst a list of various ethnic groups. Most students who were ultimately classified as Caribbean, African, Other or biracial/biethnic (based on responses about place of birth of themselves, parents or 44 Aisha Cecilia Ha m'e grandparents) did not check ‘black American’ on their survey forms. Biracials/biethnics were least likely to identify as black Americans when compared to other ethnic groups: Table 3: Respondent’s Ethnic Self-Identification Ethnic Identity Black—American Afro—Caribbean African -iethnic/ biracial Percentage of 57.1% 21.2% 13.5% 25.9% Total (N = (N = 97) (N = 36) (N = 23) (N = 44) 169) Choosing each Response Furthermore, interviews with respondents suggested that biracial/bieth- nic students and those students with an immigrant background associated with a more diverse group of friends in high school than black Americans. Indeed, if one has traveled to foreign countries, or even grown up hearing stories from parents who lived abroad, one is much more likely to have had diverse social interactions than someone who has grown up in the same town or state as his/ her parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Similarly, if one is a biracial American and has one parent who is white (or Jewish as in the case of many biracial/biethnic students at Harvard), one is more likely to feel comfortable around other non-black ethnic groups than someone who has less daily personal contact with people of other ethnic groups. 3) Students of Caribbean andAfi'ican heritage were more likely to have kinship networks spanning the globe than students of American heritage. Asking interviewees where their immediate and extended families live, I found that most of the students with an immigrant background have family scattered around the globe. Many of these students have traveled abroad to visit relatives overseas, and have been exposed to a wide variety of cultures. This phenomenon further emphasizes the idea that students of Caribbean and African heritage not only identify as descendants of Jamaican or Ghanaian national origins, but also as members of a world society. These students have been influenced by world travel and foreign cultures on a personal level. With family members living around the globe, the world is their home. It is likely that the comfort level ofa Caribbean-American or African- American (LC. of recent African heritage) interacting with a diverse group of people is greater than that of a person of onlyAmerican ancestry. Again, it is this increased contact with non-localized sources of education and Not 'lust Black’ Policy Considerations 45 culture that may give students with an immigrant heritage an advantage in terms of psychological preparation in applying to a highly selective and world—renowned institution. Although there is little literature to support this claim, and no means to test the ethnic proportion of applicants to Harvard, interviews do suggest that this may be a salient phenomenon that influences students’ paths towards Harvard. 4) A majority of respondents, regardless of ethnicity, were likely to reside in the Northeastern region of the United States, but the advan— tages of living in this resource-rich region benefited some ethnicities more substantially than others.. Although many respondents resided in the Northeast, students of Carib— bean and African heritage were more likely to reside in urban areas than were students of American heritage:12 Table 4: Respondent’s Residential Region by ‘Ethnicity’ Ethnicity North— Mid Mid- South South- West Total east -west/ Atlantic west Central American 32.89 "/0 14.47 % 9.21% 21.05 % 11.84 % 10.53 % 100 0/0 (N=76) Caribbean 51.85 % 7.41 0/o 9.26 % 25.93 "/0 1.85 0/o 3.70 % 100 % (N=54) African 40.00 % 24.00 0/0 24.00 % 0.00 % 8.00 % 4.00 % 100 % (N:25) Other 33.35 % 16.67 % 16.67 0/0 8.33 6/0 8.33 0/0 16.67 °/0 100 % (N=12) Total 40.12 % 13.77 "/0 11.98 % 18.56 % 7.78 % 7.78 % 100% (N=167) a = .045, x1 (15) = 25.3918 Specifically, Caribbeans were much more likely to be concentrated in the New York area than other groups. As argued by many sociologists, immigrants choose to come to the Northeast because of family connec- tions and the belief that greater opportunities are available in the region. Given that the largest percentage of all Harvard students hail from the Northeast in comparison to other regions, it is entirely possible that this region contains specific advantages not found in other regions. Prep for Prep, for example, which is an organization that prepares minority youth for introduction into private schools, only operates in New York City. Since about half of the respondents who claimed to have been involved in high school preparatory programs attended Prep for Prep, it is likely that Harvard students hailing from New York, who were 46 Aisha Cecilio Hagm‘e disproportionately Caribbean, had greater access to opportunities for educational advancement than students from other areas. Data confirms that almost twice as many Caribbean respondents compared to any other ethnic group claimed to have participated in a high school preparatory program.13 What is most compelling, however, is that of the 10 Prep for Prep scholars in my survey sample, 7 of them were Caribbean.” Furthermore, over one half of Caribbean—Americans, com- pared to slightly over one'third of black Americans, attended private high schools. The significance of this finding is that even with the slight regional clustering of the students of Caribbean heritage, proportionately more Caribbeans than black Americans attended private schools and participated in college preparatory programs.15 Through interviews, I also noted that many Caribbean students found out about these preparatory programs through Caribbean relatives or friends. This finding is consistent with the network theory of immigration in which immigrants and their children reside in ethnic enclaves and use extended networks of family and friends to learn how to negotiate the American system and ultimately find “The American Dream.” Note: When I asked one interviewee about his high school preparatory academy and its ethnic makeup (to discover whether preparatory acad- emies also had ethnic disproportions), he immediately tried to interpret my reasoning behind the question: Carter-‘6 is a famaiean—Ameriean from Florida whose father works as a registered nurse and mother as a customer service representative. He was an AB C (A Better Chance) seholarand attended a private boardingsehool in New Hampshire. H e proudly proclaimed that the ethnic phenomenon he observed within his prep school is due to an immigrant philosophy held by the first- and second—generation Caribbean immigrants toAmeriea. He made the following comments: Carter: I don ’1‘ think we [Immigrants to America] form a significantpereentage of theAfliean-Ameriean population, how— ever, um, I mean, I knew there were gonna be a lot of famaieans here [atHarvard]. . . I justkina’ oflaugh when Afiiean—Americans come up to me and they start asking “well, where are your parents from, ” you know? And, I ’d be like, “well my parents are from jamaica, ”and they ’dshake their heads and be like, you know, “I never realized how few Afiiean—Amerieans there attually are, I mean African—Americans as in roots here before the Civil War, " and then I just laugh because, 1 mean, at Exeter [an exclusive Not ’Zust Black' Poligg Considerations 47 private boarding school in the Northeast], I guess that’s where I firstsaw it, where at least half the pop ulation was either Caribbean orAfiican, and um, I think, you can attribute that to just basically the immigrant philosophy ofworhing hard. I mean, Um, there 3‘ nothing particularabout jamaica, it’s more the whole immigrant philosophy . . . now you have black immigrants who, who want to succeed in the country, and that idea gets trang‘é’rred to their kids, that they have to succeed, and one of the major ways, of course, is through education. I think that is why you find that, and it 3” just, it’s something that, obviously I be seen it first hand. ' Idon ’thnow, sometimesIthinhsometimes there 'sfi’ittion between the two communities. I mean, you don ’t see it much here, but I know bac/e in south Florida, maybe, especially between li/ee Haitians and the rest ofthe black community. . . 5) Students of African heritage had parents who were much more highly educated than the parents of students with Caribbean or American heritage. The students of African heritage were much more likely than any other group to have parents that were highly—educated and working in profes- sional or paraprofessional occupations. It is rarely contested that children born to socio‘economically privileged families tend to fare better in education than children born to poorer families. It is therefore not surprising that there was an overrepresentation of students of African heritage at Harvard. Naturally, these students, who have parents who are highly—educated and have greater knowledge or access to knowledge about good schools and educational opportunities, as well as the money to pay for these opportunities, are more likely than other ethnic groups to achieve academically high standards. They are also more likely to be educationally and psychologically prepared for entry into a selective and rigorous college like Harvard (See Appendix for tables on maternal education and occupa- tion). 48 Aisha Cecilia Haym'e Table 5: Father’s Education by Ethnicity Ethnicity Below High School Some College College Graduate/ Total High School Graduate Graduate Professional Degree American 2.70 0/o 9.46 0/0 27.03 0/0 14.86 % 45.95 % 100 % (N = 74) Caribbean 3.64 0/c1 10.91 % 14.55 0/0 29.09 0/0 41.82 % 100 % (N = 55) African 0.00 % 0.00 % 0.00 % 9.09 % 90.91 °/o 100 % (N = 22) Other 0.00 0/0 18.18 0/0 18.18 °/o 27.27 % 56.36 % 100 % (N = 11) Total 2.47 % 9.26 % 18.52 % 19.75 % 50.00 0/0 100 % (N = 162) a = .013, x3 (12) = 25.3752 Table 6: Father’s Occupation by Ethnicity thnicity Manager- ProfesP Sales Clerical Ser— Production, Unem- ial/Admin- sional/ and and vice Construction, played istrative Parapro— Related Admin. Material fessional Support Handling 46.27% 4.48% 1.49% 13.43% 13.43% Total 1.49 % 100 % (N = 67) aribbean 11.76 % 64.71 % 1.96% 7.84 0/0 1.96 l’/0 9.80 "/0 1.96 % 100 % (N =51) 19.40 % ' n erican ican 17.39 "/0 82.61 "/0 0.00 "/0 0.00 °/o 0.00 "/0 0.00 % 0.00 °/o 100 °/0 (N = 23) Other 0.00% 55.56% 11.11% 0.00% 11.11% 11.11% 11.11% 100% (N = 09) 10.00 % 2.00 % 100 % (N = 150) 7.33 % 3.33 % 3.33 0/0 15.33 % 58.67 % 0: = .044, X2 (18) = 29.3895 6) Students flom dtfi‘Erent ethnic backgrounds were motivated to achieve for di erent reasons. When I asked interviewees Whether or not they felt that their ethnicity played a role in their feelings about education, there were clear differences in the responses that separated along ethnic lines. Biethnics/biracials were not at all likely to feel as though their ethnicity played a role in their educational values. A few seemed quite defensive in arguing that their feelings about education would have been the same regardless of their ethnicity. A few of these interviewees said that they did not really think much about their ethnicity to begin with, and therefore could not really saywhether or not it had anything to do with their educational values. This accurately reflects why so many of these interviewees did not give an affirmative response. Not ’Zust Black’ Policy Considerations 49 BlackAmericans, for the large part, felt as though their ethnicity played a large pa...
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