Dartmouth struggles to recruit minorities

by Kate Mulley | 5/19/04 5:00am

While all college admissions offices heavily recruit for the best and the brightest students across the country, Dartmouth's attempt to create a diverse community in New Hampshire, the third whitest state in the country, requires some major work.

Under the guidance of College President James Wright, the College has increased its minority enrollment by almost 50 percent.

Though the belief persists that Dartmouth has a smaller percentage of minorities than other Ivy League institutions, Dartmouth, with around 30 percent minorities, actually falls in the middle of the Ancient Eight. Harvard University has the highest published percentage, with 34.9 percent. Cornell University has the lowest percentage in the Ivies, with 28 percent.

For the incoming Class of 2008, Dartmouth falls in the middle again for minority students who are matriculating at Ivy League schools.

The University of Pennsylvania boasts the largest number, with 38 percent of their incoming freshmen identifying as students of color. Penn's undergraduate student body, 10,000 strong, is much larger than Dartmouth's. Penn's undergraduate community also breaks down into four separate schools: the College of Arts and Sciences, the Nursing School, Wharton School of Business and the School of Engineering. Penn's location in Philadelphia, a vibrant and diverse city filled with college students, also may make it more appealing to minority students.

Students of color made up 36.7 percent of the accepted class of 2008 at Dartmouth. Only 30.4 percent of the matriculating students, however, are minorities. While this difference is much less than the overall yield one wonders where that 6.3 percent decided to go over Dartmouth. Dartmouth loses prospective students every year to the Big Three: Harvard, Yale University and Princeton University.

Dean of Admissions Karl Furstenberg noted that there was no distinction between where accepted minority students had chosen to go over Dartmouth and the schools that white students chose over Dartmouth. And while Yale and Princeton may have lower minority percentages, Dartmouth's status as an Ivy League school may be its highest selling point for minority students. An Ivy League degree and the education one receives at an elite school distinguish Dartmouth students from many others entering the work force.

"Most of the top students are looking for academic quality first and foremost," Furstenberg said in describing how Dartmouth has been able to attract more minority students to Hanover. "We've found that we have overcome the location and that Hanover used to be viewed as much more remote."

Tiffany Redding '05, an African American, cited Dartmouth's rural location and the many issues that are a result of its isolation as a deterrent for many minorities applying to top-tier colleges.

"Hanover and Dartmouth are just not equipped with the necessities that many minority students need to survive. For example, black hair care is a very big issue. There are a number of hair salons in town that cater to an all-white clientele, but when asked if they do black hair, they are uncertain. Topside also does not sell products for black hair or skin, leaving many black students to travel to neighboring cities just to manage their personal care," Redding said.

Other reasons for choosing schools may be as simple as preferring other colleges that they were accepted to, receiving larger financial aid packages from other schools or deciding not to go to school far away from home. Some students, however, are very conscious of the isolation and the perceived lack of diversity at Dartmouth.

Samantha Powell, a junior at Princeton, spent her senior spring deciding between Princeton and Dartmouth.

As a black student, she said that she was in a lose-lose situation because she believed both schools to be lacking in the diversity she had hoped for after spending eight years at a primarily white institution.

She chose Princeton partially because she "thought it would be easier for me to escape to New York or Philadelphia, which are both an hour away, if things ever got to be too stifling in New Jersey."

Powell also acknowledged her perception of the Greek system at Dartmouth to be a deterrent as a reason she chose Princeton. She says now that she was unaware of the exclusive presence of the eating clubs at Princeton when she made her decision.

Since his arrival at Dartmouth Furstenberg has committed himself to increasing the number of students of color on campus. But in addition to creating racial diversity, the admissions office has worked to created socio-economic diversity at Dartmouth by offering more financial aid to students. Furstenberg also stressed the importance of recruiting students who had grown up in diverse environments in creating a "student body interested in diversity."

According President Wright's five-year report, minorities only made up 20 percent of Dartmouth's student body when he came into office in 1998.

This rise is the result of an increase in recruitment at the high school-level of students of color and the sending representatives from Dartmouth to urban schools and schools with diverse populations. This has brought Dartmouth to the attention of many students who otherwise would not have applied.

Dartmouth will also bring students to the campus. Dartmouth has also seen a rise in minority students interested in applying early to the school, which shows that there has been increased interest in Dartmouth as the first choice for many minority students.

Yet, while Dartmouth imports diverse cultural events to Hanover for students and the greater Upper Valley community, the lack of an established non-white community makes the wide-spread culture one that can be quite foreign to students who arrive at Dartmouth from a different cultural background, some minority students said.

Even students who are not classified as students of color note the lack of accessible cultural opportunities. Julia Saraidaridis '05, the daughter of a Greek father and U.S.-born mother, took Greek classes, participated in Greek dancing and went to Greek Orthodox church as a child.

When she started attending boarding school in Massachusetts, she had less time for these activities that tied her to her heritage.

Upon arrival at Dartmouth, she saw even fewer opportunities to continue these interests. "The only things that are Greek at Dartmouth are the frats," Saraidaridis joked while discussing her adjustment to Hanover.

On the other hand, Narissa Chang '05, an engineering and studio art major, said that her decision to come to Dartmouth had little to do with racial distribution of the school and more to do with the strength of the academic departments she was interested in.

"I've never really felt like a minority here. Maybe because I've spent the majority of my life in the states, balanced by the fact that my family remains very connected to our cultural roots." Chang said.

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