In a new nationwide study titled “We Want Black Students, Just Not You: How White Admissions Counselors Screen Black Prospective Students”, author Ted Thornhill examines the racial penalties in college admissions at predominantly white institutions for anti-racist activist Black students in the post-Civil Rights era.

Thornhill shares that his nationwide study was inspired by the book “Acting White? Rethinking Race in ‘Post-Racial’ America.” He states, “In the book, legal scholars Devon Carbado and Mitu Gulati argue that in the ‘post-racial’ era, white-controlled organizations prefer to hire ‘good blacks’ who will think of themselves as people first and black people second.”

As a Black educator, Thornhill wanted to¬†investigate whether the same penalties exist for Black students at white-controlled educational institutions. To examine this theory, Thornhill and a colleague sent 500 random white admission counselors at historically white, private colleges across the nation four emails of Black high school student profiles. They utilized distinct names that would signal they were Black. Of the four emails, the sent template had different interests as follows: 1) math and English, 2) environmental sustainability, 3) African-American history and culture, and 4) anti-racism. Students asked if their interests would align with the college’s activities.

On average, white admission counselors were 26% less likely to respond to Black students who profess an interested in anti-racism. Gender was also a factor. White male counselors were 37% less likely to respond to Black student interested in racial justice. When the gender of Black students was factored in, while male counselors were 50% less likely to respond to anti-racist Black female students. To contrast, white male counselors gave a 74% response rate to Black women students focusing on environmental justice.

Thornhill concludes that white-controlled institutions are interested in admitting Black students to meet a certain diversity percentage, but preferred Black students who are distinctly racially palatable and politically centrist.