College can be a difficult time. Not only are many trying to “find themselves,” but students are also forced to decide on what career path their lives will take. Because of this, many students often switch majors in an attempt to figure out what works best for them. While this practice may be common place, a new research paper at Duke University has some black student crying foul.

An unpublished report titled “What Happens After Enrollment? An Analysis of the Time Path of Racial Differences in GPA and Major Choice,” took a look at Duke’s 2001 and 2002 freshman classes, and concluded that black students switched to “easier” majors at disproportionally higher rates than their white counterparts.

The Herald Sun reports:

It found that among students who initially expressed an interest in majoring in economics, engineering and the natural sciences, 54 percent of black men and 51 percent of black women ended up switching to the humanities or another social science. 

By comparison, 33 percent of white women and just 8 percent of white men made the switch to majors that are considered less rigorous, require less study and have easier grading standards. 

According to the paper, 68 percent of Duke’s black students but less than 55 percent of white students ended up majoring in the humanities or social sciences other than economics. 

The paper’s authors–professors Peter Arcidiacono and Kenneth Spenner, and graduate student Esteban Aucejo–suggest that the switch to seemingly less rigorous majors suggest that black students who benefit from affirmative-action programs are less prepared for more difficult majors, and therefore switch to less demanding areas of study. They also argue that “attempts to increase representation [of minorities] at elite universities through the use of affirmative action may come at a cost of perpetuating underrepresentation of blacks in the natural sciences and engineering,”

According to the Herald Sun, the report was submitted as a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court by opponents of affirmative action. It argues that previous data showing the GPAs of black students were similar to their white peers aren’t necessarily accurate because black students, according to report’s authors, tended to pursue less difficult areas of study.

Black students at Duke are pushing back against the paper’s findings, which also noted that children of alumni switched majors at similar rates. The Black Student Alliance (BSA) sent a letter to the local NAACP branch about the ramifications of the research paper.

The BSA explains, “The implications and intentions of this research at the hands of our very own prestigious faculty, seemingly without a genuine concern for proactively furthering the well-being of the black community is hurtful and alienating.”

The BSA also noted that the paper neglected “to account for the societal, complex and institutional factors that must be considered in any attempt to delineate trends in racial differences in grade point averages and major choices, in a scholarly manner.”

What do you think? Does this information speak to the validity of Affirmative-Action or are the paper’s authors just race-bating? 

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  • Racial Rachel

    It think it’s a smart move, to be honest. If both our degrees say Harvard, it doesn’t matter if I take art and you take life sci. The moment I realized I was getting the same degree as everyone else, I began thinking strategically about classes.

    I’m a double Ivy and at both my schools there is a tradition of the older black students telling the younger black students about easier classes and good professors. Who wants to struggle if their heart is not in it?

    Also, humanities are not easier than science. It takes a different set of skills. I had pre-med friends who struggled with 7 page papers while I was turning in 25 page papers in a week. It wasn’t easy, but I learned the skill.

    Sidenote: I hope I’m an affirmative action case. Consider it my reparations. I’m going to take my affirmative action degree to get my affirmative action job and fight to end disparity.

    • PDemon

      Affirmative action=racism.

  • Jay

    “PS. And sometimes all these HBCUs aren’t even the best choices in education. If you wanna be something, go to where you will be given the best education. So what if there aren’t alot or even one other Black person at that place. Be diverse, be open to other cultures. Stop being so stuck in your ways and open your mind to the world, because once you do, so many opportunities will be available to you. SMH”

    Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s thesis, The Mis-Education of the Negro, is still in print; let us all read it to determine what implications are still relevant today. There are over 4000 colleges and universities in the U.S., and 105 HBCU’s; why do we still group HBCU’s as if they are a monolith? Why aren’t all predominantly white colleges grouped like this I wonder? Why is it that if a student attends an HBCU, he or she is not embracing diversity because he or she is of the majority population? Why do we not say to white students who attend predominantly white colleges that they are not embracing diversity? Why is ‘predoninantly white’ still the best? Why is it that individuals who have never attended an HBCU always state that HBCU’s are not the best educational choices? It is because, many Black/African Americans still feel that white is right?Do they feel that white is still better? Do they feel that black is less than, and that it could never be euqal to what is white? Mis-educated black folks tell me daily that they would never attend a “black” college, but get up every Sunday morning and attend and drive to a black church! LOL Sometimes it is even a Historically Black church! At other times, they have joined historically black fraternities and sororities, or even black student associations; yet, black colleges are still inferior? I am not directing these statements/questions to you “Mimi”; I do not know you. I am a Ph.D. student (at a white college of course ) and travel across the country presenting on HBCU’s; your statement above just prompted me to respond. I find many of the comments fascinating; however, my expertise concerns HBCU’s which is why I focused on your statement.

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