Campus debates merit of minority recruitment weekends

The answer is neither black nor white.

Both the Black Student Alliance Invitational and Latino Student Recruitment Weekend will likely take place in future years, but some members of the Duke community have raised questions about how effective the weekends are for recruiting prospective students, when the events should take place and whether minority events should combined with other recruitment efforts.

Early in his term at Duke, President Richard Brodhead said that he prefers a racially unified welcome for all admitted students, and in an interview he reaffirmed his stance on the weekends. Brodhead was instrumental in eliminating minority-targeted recruitment events at Yale University, where he served as dean of Yale College for 11 years.

“We went from having separate recruitment events to unified recruitment events where people could see the different types of support available,” Brodhead said in an interview Monday. “Those who said it would hurt minority recruitment were not correct. The unified events worked just as well as the previous events, and I think it would be the same at Duke.”

Debate over effectiveness

In the past month, many students have engaged in a debate about the weekends—specifically BSAI.

In response to a letter to the editor criticizing BSAI written by sophomore Brandon Locke, Black Student Alliance President Nana Asante, a junior, wrote in a letter to The Chronicle published March 30 that BSAI boasts a 50 percent yield, the highest of any recruitment program. Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Christoph Guttentag said he could not disclose exact numbers but noted that the yields of both recruitment events have consistently been equal to or greater than the overall yield for the entering class.

“I know that students who have participated in programs like BSAI have consistently found it very valuable in their decision to attend Duke,” Guttentag said. “We invite students to both BSAI and Blue Devil Days, and it’s important for students to see both aspects of Duke.”

Asante declined to comment for this article.

Even though Brodhead said he would personally prefer a different setup for minority recruitment, he noted that he will not actively work to eliminate BSAI and LSRW.

“My views are generally known, but I haven’t been in the lead role at devising these events and don’t think that would likely be the president’s role,” Brodhead said. “I’m not leading a crusade against these events.”

In his March 28 letter titled “A Week of Segregation,” Locke stated that merging BSAI and Blue Devil Days would give black students an accurate picture of Duke. Locke, who attended BSAI in 2009, said that the yield rate may not paint an accurate picture of the effectiveness of BSAI.

“I don’t think that the 50 to 60 percent retention rate for BSAI is an accurate statistic,” Locke said in an interview. “Just because people came to BSAI and then attended Duke does not mean that BSAI was the reason for their decision. Correlation does not imply causation.”

Locke said that merging BSAI and Blue Devil Days into one event would prevent the self-segregation he feels the minority recruitment event promotes.

“I realize that it isn’t the goal of BSAI to separate, and that it’s to bring students together based on a common culture,” Locke said. “But I felt like separation of black students from the greater community was an inevitable side effect of having BSAI.”

The weekend has existed since the 1980s, when BSA collaborated with admission to introduce the “Duke experience from a black perspective,” the BSA website states. LSRW was founded in 1999 ago for similar reasons.

At one time, Brodhead said Duke needed minority recruitment programs more than other universities, partially because of its historical roots.

“Duke was in the formerly segregated South,” he said. “That made it especially important to welcome students from underrepresented minorities. I would say now, the argument [for minority recruitment programs] is less clear.”

The admissions office funds approximately half of the events that take place during BSAI and LSRW, with BSA and Mi Gente funding the remaining portions. The admissions office also sends out the invitations to students who self-identify as black and Latino. BSAI and LSRW both have admissions officers who oversee operations and help organize events for the weekends.

Merging recruitment efforts

Every year, the admissions office evaluates the effectiveness of recruitment programs, and admissions officers and undergraduates never completely agree on the timing of the weekends, Guttentag said.

“So far, the consensus has been that having BSAI in late March, when we have it, is the best time,” he said. “But this is always a topic of conversation. It doesn’t surprise me that at a school as diverse as Duke that there would be a diversity of opinion.”

Unlike BSAI—which traditionally takes place before students are even admitted to the University—LSRW typically takes place during Blue Devil Days. Mi Gente tries to ensure that the two events occur at the same time to encourage the celebration of all types of cultures.

“We have always made very deliberate decisions to integrate LSRW into other parts of Duke life,” said Mi Gente co-President Catherine Castillo, a senior. “We always make sure it overlaps with Blue Devil Days and we also invite other organizations to collaborate with us on events.”

LSRW combines events centered on Latino culture—such as a banquet hosted by Lambda Upsilon Lambda, Inc., a Latino fraternity—with events such as a student panel with undergraduates of all cultures who answer questions for attendees.

Castillo said that from her experience watching three LSRWs take place, she does not think that the weekend promotes self-segregation, stating that many Latino students fully integrate themselves into other parts of the community and activities such as clubs and Greek life.

“LSRW is very important for Latino students who are not familiar with American universities, especially if their parents did not attend a university in the U.S.,” Castillo said. “LSRW is also useful for Latino students who identify strongly with Latino culture, and it lets them see that Duke provides spaces for people to pursue that part of their identity.”

Freshman Albert DeCaprio, who attended LSRW last year, thinks that integrating the event and Blue Devil Days is necessary to expose Latino students to all sides of Duke.

“If LSRW and Blue Devil Days weren’t occurring at the same time, I would’ve felt more segregation,” DeCaprio said. “But LSRW is definitely necessary to provide a sense of community for Latinos who are skeptical of Duke having a Latino community.”

Yet multiple recent attendees of BSAI said they prefer that the recruitment weekend is at a different time than Blue Devil Days.

Ciera Echols, a high school senior from Marietta, Ga., said integrating BSAI and the standard welcome weekends would defeat the purpose of emphasizing the Duke black community.

“BSAI gives black students the chance to meet each other because we’re a minority race,” Echols said. “Usually when you visit a campus, you don’t get to see black kids. BSAI convinced me to come to Duke because it showed me that the atmosphere at Duke is a lot friendlier than other schools I was looking at.”

Denzel Cummings, a high school senior from Laurinburg, N.C., said that BSAI was the best welcome program he has been to at any school.

“BSAI made me want to come to Duke because I had the opportunity to experience Duke as a student,” he said. “All of the events were open to all students regardless of race. Every individual can participate.”


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