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The Real Value of Diversity

The class followed its usual script. The professor took center stage, exposing the deep racism, sexism, and homophobia of a previous generation, and like well-rehearsed actors we students assumed our roles as moral arbiters in a semester-long show trial. This was a course called “Darwin and Natural Selection” and we were intrepid voyagers on the Beagle 2.0 heroically exposing the bigotry of a man born in 1809.

I’m an undergraduate English major at Dartmouth College. Whether it’s Lewis and Clark in my course on 19th century American history or Michael Pollan in my “Garden Politics” class, the focus is unchanged. The same reliable arguments about the author’s “racial commodification” or Clark’s “masculinely imposed pollution” secure an incontestable stamp of approval and get placed in the recycle bin for next class. These opinions are dissent-proof; simple confirmations of what we already know.

Last year’s annual review1 of Dartmouth students’ political leanings found that 91 percent of the class (myself included) held unfavorable views of Donald Trump against just three percent favorable. Only eight percent of the student body identified as “somewhat” or “very” conservative, one percent reporting “very,” while 17 percent reported moderate views and 73 percent “somewhat” or “very” (myself included) liberal views. This orthodoxy is enforced by a high degree of self-censorship. A survey2 of 45,000 students at over 200 colleges by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) found that more than eight out of 10 reported being afraid to express their true beliefs at least some of the time and nearly six out of 10 said that they would “hesitate to publicly disagree with a professor.” Even among the almost entirely liberal faculty (as much as 95 percent in the social sciences3), more than a third of professors report4 self-censoring to avoid running afoul of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) bureaucracy on college campuses. This is compared to nine percent at the height of the red scare.5 When it comes to views on race, sex, and gender identity, we are all in the majority; and as Mark Twain advised, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”

Dartmouth champions “many cultures, one community,”6 a proclamation that underscores its commitment to cultivating the “great natural resource”7 that is diversity. The college prominently displays the high numbers of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) admitted into every undergraduate class, with an express spotlight on geographic heterogeneity. The most recent undergraduate class,8 for example, saw a minority rate of 45 percent and included students from all 50 states, 26 different tribal nations, and 74 different countries.

This same detailed breakdown, however, is not provided for the economic background of incoming students. When it comes to class, the college is strategically ambiguous. Nowhere does Dartmouth publish the number of poor kids admitted. Instead, it obscures the data by measuring what percentage of the incoming class qualifies for need-based scholarships and reporting the average scholarship grant provided. Rather than reveal the income distribution of its students, the college showcases the percent of students “projected to be eligible for Pell Grants.” While Dartmouth qualifies anyone who is eligible as “low income,” these grants have no specific income threshold and are dispensed to anyone who demonstrates “exceptional financial need.”

The diversity that Dartmouth champions is the kind that adds more colorful pins to the world map hanging outside the DEI office but does little to help those most disadvantaged—poor kids. It is what Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas described as the “aesthetic of diversity;” an ornamental policy designed to admit full-pay minorities under the guise of diversity. What if we pulled out all those pins and reorganized them onto a poster charting income distribution? In light of the inscrutable measures of economic diversity provided by the college itself, we must instead rely on public records of family income using data from the Internal Revenue Service.9, 10

At Dartmouth, 21 percent of my classmates are from families in the top one percent of the income distribution ($652,657 a year in 2023, according to Fortune magazine), while only 14 percent come from the bottom 60 percent (less than $65,000 a year) and just seven percent are from the bottom 40 percent (less than $46,000 a year). Put it this way: if your parents make more than $630,000 a year you are 120 times as likely to be admitted to Dartmouth than if your parents make less than $46,000. Dartmouth student families have the second highest median income (Brown is 1st) in the Ivy League and are first in the Ivy League in the percentage of students they draw from the top one percent; 45 percent are from the top five percent, 58 percent are from the top 10 percent, 69 percent are from the top 20 percent, and 2.6 percent are from the bottom 20 percent.

The exhausting discourse on racism, sexism, and gender identity in my classes is a comforting distraction. As David Brooks put it in a recent New York Times editorial,11 “Elite institutions have become so politically progressive in part because the people in them want to feel good about themselves as they take part in systems that exclude and reject.” The social justice crusade on campus obfuscates the uncomfortable fact that there is no real diversity at Dartmouth. Everyone is from the same background—they’re rich.

Of course, one might argue that kids with wealthy parents are simply better equipped to handle the rigors of college. This is probably true and there is no question that rich students have higher GPAs, score higher on standardized tests, and even have higher IQs than poor students. Indeed, research by The Century Foundation12, 13 showed that the achievement gap between the educational outcomes of lower and upper income students is 7 times the effect of race (i.e., the gap between White and Black students).

A study14 published earlier this summer by Harvard economist Raj Chetty, however, revealed that even after controlling for ACT/SAT scores, “Children from families in the top one percent are more than twice as likely to attend an Ivy-Plus college (Ivy League, Stanford, MIT, Duke, and Chicago) as those from middle-class families [$83,000–$116,000].” Chetty goes on to explain that, “The high-income admissions advantage at private colleges is driven by three factors: (1) preferences for children of alumni, (2) weight placed on non-academic credentials, which tend to be stronger for students applying from private high schools that have affluent student bodies, and (3) recruitment of athletes, who tend to come from higher-income families.” 24 percent of the advantage is explained by athlete recruitment, while a whopping 46 percent is explained by legacy preference in the admissions office. Dartmouth is cultivating its “great natural resource” in the garden of Versailles.

Perhaps this explains why Dartmouth is so willing to cop to charges of systemic racism or rampant sexual assault on campus, both of which are alleged to be easily fixed under the guidance of DEI policies enforced by Human Resources. It is far easier than owning up to the far more formidable problem of class discrimination, which might require canceling student debt, paying the dining staff higher wages, or admitting more poor students. Substantive change is hard and sometimes requires us to do more than wear an “8 against hate” Ivy League t-shirt; but so long as we assume all Black people are alike, regardless of income or place of birth, all the college needs to do to fulfill its diversity goals is admit more rich foreign-born minorities. One study15 showed that, although Black immigrants make up less than one percent of America’s total population, they comprise 41 percent of the Black students at Ivy League universities. Apparently, this is a far easier solution than offering more scholarships to kids who grew up in poverty.

With the Supreme Court striking down race-based affirmative action, however, class looks to be the only game in town. On the day of the ruling, June 29th, I received two campus-wide emails. The first,16 from College President Sian Beilock, warned us that Dartmouth’s diversity was under threat and assured us of the school’s commitment to “Diversity, including racial diversity,” pledging to “adapt its holistic admissions process to this new legal landscape.” The second email, from Dean Scott Brown, further assured us all that “[we] are not alone” and explained that some of us may respond with more intense negative emotions than others, attaching an extensive list of crisis response and mental health resources. In a series of emails that repeated the word “diversity” six times, not once was it preceded or followed by “economic,” “financial,” “class,” or even “socioeconomic.” In fact, those words are not found anywhere in either email. Class is simply not part of the conversation.

Most Americans, however, disagree with President Beilock and Dean Brown. According to a survey17 conducted in April 2023 by researchers at Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Texas, an overwhelming majority of Americans agree that public (74 percent) and private (69 percent) colleges and universities should not be able to use race as a factor in college admissions. Dartmouth is undoubtedly relieved that none of those Americans are on campus.

Noam Chomsky wrote that, “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.” Dartmouth is desperate to keep the diversity debate in bounds because they know the court’s historic ruling is mostly legal theater. Just as California’s public colleges and universities subverted their own state’s highest court ruling banning race-based admissions by going SAT/ACT test optional and doubling down on their nebulous “holistic admissions process,”18 Dartmouth may simply tinker with its current scheme of aesthetic diversity. But as symbolic and unauthoritative as it might be, the Supreme Court’s ruling does do one thing—it puts class at the center of the conversation.

Dartmouth is diverse in the same way Silicon Valley is “connecting the world;” and like when we realized that Facebook was not “bringing us closer together” but instead polarizing communities and making us more lonely, a similar reckoning looms over the college diversity narrative. Facebook friends will never replace face-to-face interactions, but Dartmouth can be diverse. Embracing economic diversity and offering poor kids a gateway into the upper echelons of society might even enliven class discussion with the views of those whose “lived experiences” are truly different and disadvantaged. Is this not the real value of diversity? END

About the Author

Nicolas Lynch-Pinzon is a recent (September 2023) graduate and English major at Dartmouth College. Volunteering for the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2016 and working on subsequent local elections inspired his scientific research on the relationship between social capital and populism. Now graduated, he hopes to pursue his interest in writing, generally, and screenwriting, specifically.

  1. Surendran, P., Lu, E., & Sasser, A. (2022, June 12). Class of 2022: Senior Survey. The Dartmouth.
  2. 2022-2023 College Free Speech Rankings. The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. (n.d.).
  3. Langbert, M., & Stevens, S. (n.d.). Partisan Registration and Contributions of Faculty in Flagship Colleges. NAS.
  4. The Academic Mind in 2022: What Faculty Think About Free Expression and Academic Freedom on Campus. The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. (n.d.-b).
  5. Abrams, S. J. (2023, March 5). Self-Censorship on College Campuses Is Widespread and Getting Worse. The Daily Beast.
  6. Diversity & Inclusion. Dartmouth. (n.d.).
  7. Commitment to Diversity. Dartmouth Admissions. (2023, August 9).
  8. Class Profile. Dartmouth Admissions. (2023a, August 9).
  9. Aisch, G., Buchanan, L., Quealy, K., & Cox, A. (2017, January 18). Economic Diversity and Student Outcomes at America’s Colleges and Universities: Find Your College. New York Times.
  10. Chetty, R., Friedman, J. N., Saez, E., Turner, N., & Yagan, D. (n.d.). The Equality of Opportunity Project.
  11. Brooks, D. (2023, August 2). What if We’re the Bad Guys Here? New York Times.
  12. Strauss, V. (2012, February 10). How to Attack the Growing Educational Gap Between Rich and Poor. Washington Post.
  13. Kahlenberg, R. D. (2010). Rewarding Strivers: Helping Low-Income Students Succeed in College. (No Title).
  14. Chetty, R., Deming, D. J., & Friedman, J. N. (2023). Diversifying Society’s Leaders? The Causal Effects of Admission to Highly Selective Private Colleges (No. w31492). National Bureau of Economic Research.
  15. Massey, D. S., Mooney, M., Torres, K. C., & Charles, C. Z. (2007). Black Immigrants and Black Natives Attending Selective Colleges and Universities in the United States. American Journal of Education, 113(2), 243-271.
  16. Letter From the President on Affirmative Action. Dartmouth. (2023, June 29).
  17. 17. Liptak, A., & Murray, E. (2023, June 7). The Major Supreme Court Decisions in 2023. New York Times.
  18. Bowman, E. (2023, June 30). Here’s What Happened When Affirmative Action Ended at California Public Colleges. NPR.

This article was published on November 13, 2023.

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