Author(s): Fazeela Wadan
Mentor(s): Blake Silver, Sociology & Anthropology
When applying to universities, people of color are often drawn to schools that advocate for diversity and inclusivity amongst their students, yet the statistical evidence of the acceptance rates based on race do not line up. The term “American meritocracy” sheds light on the topic of preferential admission into colleges based on socioeconomic status regardless of race. Thus, this brings up the question of what universities mean when they advocate for inclusion and diversity. Additionally, whether the definition they advocate for is the same definition of diversity that the prospective students interpret. The impact of this unclear communication stemming from the ambiguous language of schools’ results in ongoing disparities, specifically for those who do not have access to a proper mentor that can guide them during the complicated application process. Although universities attempt to communicate that they are inclusive and welcoming, it is still unknown how students receive these messages, or how they interpret them as they plan for college applications. This gap in knowledge is addressed and the perceptions of both critical parties are brought one step closer to being aligned through this research project. Structured interviews are being conducted with 20 participants, all first-year Mason students. Although no conclusions can be drawn currently as the data collection process is ongoing as of yet, the results of the preliminary analysis show that every participant had a different personal interpretation of the word diversity and were under the assumption that universities are using the same definition as them.
My project is titled ambiguity of diversity and inclusion claims surrounding university admissions.
A little bit of background of my project is that I noticed universities were often advocating for diversity and inclusion, yet their racial statistics did not match up to their claims. My major concern was that this would send a message that would be misinterpreted by prospective students, especially first-generation students or those that do not have the proper resources or mentors to help them during the college application process. My project looks into answering the questions of how students define diversity and what definition they believe universities are using as diversity is a word that can mean many things.
This was done by interviewing 20 first-year Mason students where I ask them a series of questions about their college applications and their perception of diversity as I just mentioned. The interview recordings are then professionally transcribed, and the transcriptions are run through analytical coding software which allows patterns between responses to be seen and visualized more holistically.
As I am still in the data collection and analysis process, I am only able to present preliminary results that I have seen in the interviews I have been able to analyze. Here, I am comparing two of the interviews that have been completed so far, where the first participant identifies as a white woman and the second as a Hispanic man. Looking at their responses to the same questions side-by-side offers a new perspective of just how different each person can interpret a message. For example, the first participant defined diversity as acceptance with the first categories that came to mind being gender, race, ethnicities, and cultures, while the second participant defined it as acknowledgment with the defined categories of age, ethnicities, and sexual orientations. Similarly, for the first participant, diversity was a priority when applying as well as feeling safe in a new environment, while for the second participant finding a school that had the right program for him was a priority. The second participant also mentioned a particular public technical institution that on multiple occasions made claims of being proud of their diversity but in reality, when he went to visit the campus, there was barely any diversity present. On the other hand, the first participant could not recall any particular university promoting diversity and then not upholding their claims.
Based on the preliminary results and patterns noticed so far, every participant has given a different variation of the definition of diversity and assumed institutions followed the same definition as them. Also, the results are beginning to build a bridge between the increasing number of college applicants and the schools they are applying to. This project and its results also apply to other higher-level education institutions, not strictly undergraduate schools. The results will clarify what is not communicated between the two parties. I hope to further this research in the future by looking into universities’ admission offices perspective next.