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'We Want Black Students, Just Not You' Looks at the Admissions Screening Process

People of different genders and racial backgrounds hold check mark signs in front of their faces.

Diversity has been a well-advertised goal of institutions of higher education for decades. But, as a recent study from a Florida Gulf Coast Universityprofessor finds, it’s a certain kind of diversity they’re after. 

RELATED: New Study Finds Admissions Counselors May Prefer Deracialized Students

Dr. Ted Thornhill is the author of a just-released study called, “We Want Black Students, Just Not You.”

The sociologist reached out to more than 500 white admissions counselors, posing as various “types” of prospective black students, and what he found was, the preference seemed to be more “racially palatable” students – those who weren’t openly concerned with issues of race and racism.

“So, to make that simple," Thornhill said, "it’s like, who would they rather have working for them: Angela Davis or Condoleezza Rice? Malcom X or Carlton Banks from the Fresh Prince of Belair?”

The fictional students’ personalities and interests ranged from math to environmental science to social justice. Some participated in general extracurriculars in high school; others were involved in culturally black activities, like gospel choir or jazz band.

All were given black racialized names, but the student most concerned with racial inequality received a different response rate from the rest.

Two thirds of the students who seemed deracialized in their self-description heard back from white admissions counselors, while less than half of the emails from the more anti-racist student got a reply.

“If I was to present these individuals with these four narratives and just email them and say, ‘Hello, I’m Ted Thornhill. I’m a sociologist, and I’m doing this study. And, I want to know your views on these four types of black students. Would you respond to all of them or would you ignore some of them?’ It’s highly unlikely, I believe, that these admissions counselors would say, ‘Oh, I certainly wouldn’t respond to this particular student.’”

But, that’s what Thornhill says is the beauty of correspondence studies like this. As far as the white admissions counselors knew, these emails were coming from real, black high school students, wondering if they were a “fit” for their institution.

Thornhill also reached out to some counselors of color while conducting his research, and though that data is not part of this study, he plans to analyze it as a separate study and then compare the two.

Quotes used in this story were recorded during an interview with Thornhill before he presented his research at Howard University on Wednesday. The entire conversation aired on Gulf Coast Live and can be heard here.

Rachel Iacovone is a reporter and associate producer of Gulf Coast Live for WGCU News. Rachel came to WGCU as an intern in 2016, during the presidential race. She went on to cover Florida Gulf Coast University students at President Donald Trump's inauguration on Capitol Hill and Southwest Floridians in attendance at the following day's Women's March on Washington.Rachel was first contacted by WGCU when she was managing editor of FGCU's student-run media group, Eagle News. She helped take Eagle News from a weekly newspaper to a daily online publication with TV and radio branches within two years, winning the 2016 Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Award for Best Use of Multimedia in a cross-platform series she led for National Coming Out Day. She also won the Mark of Excellence Award for Feature Writing for her five-month coverage of an FGCU student's transition from male to female.As a WGCU reporter, she produced the first radio story in WGCU's Curious Gulf Coast project, which answered the question: Does SWFL Have More Cases of Pediatric Cancer?Rachel graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University with a bachelor's degree in journalism.