July 2, 2008

COLLEGES PUSHING PHONY DIVERSITY:

In September of 2000, the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the University of Idaho were both embarrassed when they were forced to admit that they had doctored promotional photographs to make their campuses look diverse. In both cases, non-white faces were added to real student photographs of all-white groups.

At the universities involved, officials insisted that they meant well, but just about everyone agreed that Photoshop diversity isn’t the real thing. But what if photos, even real photos of real live students, convey a false impression? . . .

The findings: Black students made up an average of 7.9 percent of students at the colleges studied, but 12.4 percent of those in viewbooks. Asian students are also more likely to be found in viewbooks than on campus, making up 3.3 percent of real students on average and 5.1 percent of portrayed students. . . . Looked at another way, he found that more than 75 percent of colleges appeared to overrepresent black students in viewbooks.

So why are black students more prevalent in viewbooks than on campus?

“Black equals diversity for many people. If you show African American students, people think that means your institution is diverse,” said Timothy D. Pippert, an assistant professor of sociology at Augsburg, who led the study. “They are defining diversity as that face.”

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