Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Ivy League Diaspora

March 5th, 2007 by Ajuan Mance

Although it’s become old news (the first reports on this subject that I encountered were published in 2006), the fact that a disproportionate number of Black students admitted to selective U.S. institutions are first- and second-generation immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean, and (less frequently) from Europe is getting more and more national attention. Here’s a recent article on the subject from the Brown Daily Herald:

More than a quarter – and in some cases nearly half – of black students at selective American colleges and universities are first- or second-generation immigrants, according to a new study appearing in the February issue of the American Journal of Education. Some sociologists say the data throw into question the criteria and purpose behind many education-related affirmative action programs as well as the way diversity is often presented at American universities. Camille Charles, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and an associate director of the school’s Center for Africana Studies; Douglas Massey, professor of sociology at Princeton; and Margarita Mooney and Kimberly C. Torres, postdoctoral fellows at Princeton’s Office of Population Research, authored the study, titled “Black Immigrants and Black Natives Attending Selective Colleges and Universities in the United States.”

“If you’re a purist, then you’ll think that (this discovery) is not in the spirit of affirmative action. But if you’re a diversity purist, and your idea is to expose everybody to as many different kinds of people as possible, then you’ll think this is great,” Charles told the Chronicle of Higher Education in an article appearing this week.

The report is based on data from a larger project, the National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen, which is sponsored by the Mellon Foundation and led by researchers at Princeton. The survey looked at 1,051 black freshmen enrolled at 28 selective colleges in 1999. Of those, 27 percent were first- or second-generation immigrants, largely from the Caribbean or Ghana -more than twice the national average of 13 percent for all black Americans aged 18 to 19.

The number climbed sharply when the schools in question were narrowed to the most selective. At the four Ivy League schools included in the survey (Penn, Princeton, Yale and Columbia), 41 percent of black students were first- or second-generation immigrants.

These numbers would seem to challenge the surprisingly persistent belief among a small but no less disturbing cadre of white and (surprising) non-white scientists and pseudo-scientistsĀ in the genetically-based intellectual inferiority of Black people(s). They also raise a number of interesting questions about

  • the long-term impact of enslavement and enforced segregation on the descendants of U.S. Black slaves.
  • the need for educational initiaves directed specifically at the Black descendants of U.S. slaves.
  • about the need for colleges to develop programming (speakers series, coursework in African and Afro-caribbean music, literature, history, and languages) that addresses the interests of a broader and diasporically-based population of students of African descent.

In theĀ long term, I believe that some of these issues will be addressed. In the short term, however, I predict a public discussion of why “homegrown” Blacks can’t/don’t do as well as their immigrant brethren and sistren. I also predict that a surprising number of African Americans will join those voices that decry the failure of U.S. (non-immigrant) Blacks to “do better.”

Stay tuned.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Posted in Academia, African Americans, Black Students, race, Slavery, Stereotypes

2 Responses

  1. DNL

    Thank you for this. I am one of these individual…altho’ I never went directly to an Ivy League….Went to a school that was started as a joint initiative between Harvard and Tufts (The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy). I did raise the same issue while at School, why is it that most black students on our campus are Africans? And this is also true in school teaching International Affairs and International Relations? For instance, in my class, out of 10 black students, only 3 were African Americans. I didn’t gain much popularity among African International Students nor the predominantly–if not all white School Administration. Not to say that I really got a pat on the back from the African Americans at the school either. In fact I often hear Africans saying that, “African Americans are lazy and don’t want to go to school”. The white dominated International Affairs coloquium (APSIA) argues that, “African Americans don’t want to apply”. However, if you choose to hold an APSIA recruitment fair in Atlanta, but hold it in a predominantly white area (mid-Town), instead of within the HBCU triangle, would you really claim to be reaching out to America’s Black student population? Moreover, it appears and as evidenced by my stay at the school that all of the Black American students who made it to school grew up in white neighborhoods. Some of them didn’t even care to support my efforts to raise this question to the school administration. So, the politics of using Blacks to undermine the progress of other blacks is absurd but condoned many times but fellow blacks. For instance, Africans who perhaps would never be here if it weren’t for the Black civil rights struggle think they are better, for the most part than African Americans who are lazy and use the system. I am an African, a Black person and a conscious Black African who gets so tired of the divide and rule or “faulting each other” lifestyle we as Black people in the US, from Africa, the Carribean and elsewhere perpetuate. Until we learn to value each other and unit, nobody else is going to value us. There’s no justification for schools to fill their minority numbers by importing Africans through lucrative scholarships that are not offered to African Americans. That said, Africans can still get here with either own financing, home scholarships or international scholarships, as they still do.

  2. Libia Romain

    Immigrants from mostly black or latino countries do not have to live day in day out in a racist culture that breaks them down little by little until a day comes when they are too tired to go on fighting. I know this because I am an immigrant that came from a place were 80% of the population was “just like me”. But I have been here almost 30 years now. I know what it is to be thought of as “Less than” just because of race or color of complexion. The students from other places don’t have to carry all the extra baggage black U.S. African Americans have to carry. My heart goes out to the slaves descendants of the U.S. not only because of the past but because of this present when coments of their lesser intellligence or lazyness keeps adding more injury to their pain and destroys even more their already traumatized minds. I am all for diversity and I applaud any minority that makes it here but let us not forget Black African Americans need more that just a scholarship. The extra push can only come from the wider society when they accept that if there is damage they are responsible for it. Only then can true healing begin and perhaps one day all they will need is a scholarship “just” like the other minorities.