Study finds broad support for diversity

by Julian Nathan | 9/22/16 12:33am

Dartmouth students were largely in favor of giving minority applicants preference in admissions and faculty hiring procedures, a recent study co-authored by Madeline Brown ’16, Lauren Martin ’16 and government professors John Carey and Yusaku Horiuchi found.

Research participants were given side-by-side comparisons of two mock applicants for admission and were asked to indicate the candidate they preferred. African American and Native American applicants fared the best, and were preferred by 15 percentage points over their white counterparts. Hispanic or Latino undergraduate applicants also fared better than white applicants by a margin of 7 percentage points. The researchers emphasized that, regardless of a participant’s gender, race or socioeconomic background, survey takers held similar views.

Horiuchi and Brown explained that they were attracted to this specific topic because of recent campus events and national trends. This year, student activism and campus protests at the University of Missouri, Yale University and Dartmouth, among others, sparked national conversations about diversity, free speech and inclusivity. Brown said that the small quantity of research on this topic prompted her team to further explore and quantify attitudes about campus diversity.

The study included a fairly new method of statistical inspection called randomized conjoint analysis. According to Horiuchi, the conjoint analysis aims to control for social desirability bias, which he described by saying that “people tend to base their responses on what is considered acceptable.” Horiuchi said that this technique is more valid than other methods because it prevents research participants from knowingly selecting a candidate solely based on one trait alone.

Horiuchi said the study’s findings were unexpected, and that “we thought we would observe two different opinions, because that is what we hear from the news.”

Brown was also surprised by the results, she said, given the recent campus climate.

This past year, topics like the Black Lives Matter movement and minority faculty retention dominated campus conversations. Last spring, Dartmouth also outlined a plan to improve campus climate with regards to inclusion and diversity. The plan established several working groups to form recommendations, as well as to increase transparency in reporting the College’s diversity metrics.

Horiuchi proposed that support for campus diversity may be stronger than was once believed, explaining that those who oppose giving minority groups priority simply tend to be more vocal about their beliefs.

“We often hear the voices of those who express their opinions aggressively, but those voices might not be representative [of everybody],” he said.

The results of this study have prompted researchers to survey different campuses within the next year to look for similarities or differences in student opinion.

“I think it would be fascinating to see more data collected on other campuses,” Brown said.

Horiuchi said that among the campuses where future research might take place are other Ivy League institutions, larger public universities like University of Michigan and University of New Mexico and smaller institutions, such as Davidson College.