Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

Are Black Students At Duke Pissed For The Right Reason?

I majored in sociology and I'm still gonna make more money than you pretty soon, white man.

I came across this article at Clutch Mag yesterday entitled, “Black Students at Duke Upset Over New Study Claiming They Take The Easy Way Out” that linked to a Durham, NC, Herald-Sun article about a study that pissed of Black folks from near and far. In a nutshell, two Duke professors and a grad student wrote a paper stating that Black students at Duke changed majors from more traditionally difficult majors like economics, engineering, and natural sciences to less rigorous majors (like humanities) at a higher rate than did white students. The paper was an attempt to explain why the GPAs of Black students tended to trend towards the GPAs of white students as ninjas made their way through college and is being used as a bone for opponents of affirmative action policies.

Oy vey.

The unpublished report, “What Happens After Enrollment? An Analysis of the Time Path of Racial Differences in GPA and Major Choice,” looked at the Duke freshman classes that matriculated in 2001 and 2002, in their first, second and fourth years of college.

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 authors of the paper suggested that the switch to easier majors was predominantly responsible for why the grade point averages of black undergraduates ultimately became similar to the GPAs of white students as they progressed through school.

The paper is included in a brief submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court by opponents of affirmative action. The court is considering whether to hear a lawsuit challenging race-conscious undergraduate admission at the University of Texas.


The fact that any professor intensely intrigued and/or troubled by the fact that Black student GPAs were similar to white student GPAs is problematic enough. But to take it to the next level to prove that basically Black students (and legacy kids, interestingly enough) were stepping on their cocaine to make it through is just a gotd*mn shame.
However, I’m choosing to take my feelings out of this and going to attempt to look at this somewhat objectively. And my reason is because of this line, the constant rally cry of any and all things that involve race by us, the Black people:
[Nina] Asante (president of Duke’s Black Student Alliance) wrote that the authors failed “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.”
I am admittedly jaded but I read that to say, “unless you have a section in your study about how slavery and the persistent effects of institutional racism f*cked us the f*ck up then your whole paper, study, and lifespace is fugazi, b*tch.”
Which, while true, does tend to obscure what are, well, facts. Look, I went to an HBCU with a stellar science program in physics and biology and a great dual degree engineering program with Georgia Tech. But let’s be real, the majority of majors at Morehouse were business. And I’m not sh*tting on business majors, but it is what it is. That was like our catchall if you couldn’t hack it in the STEM majors. And a lot of people did make that switch. I myself chose economics with a math concentration because I specifically didn’t want to feel like I was shortchanging myself. But you better believe, we had a non-math economics option and the majority of econ majors took that road.
What does that have to do with the price of dental dams at Spelman? Nothing. But if Duke is the academically rigorous school that its purported to be, and Morehouse isn’t (no shots, and if you take shots at the ‘House I’m 404 you’re whole life son) and we have a preponderance of ninjas who make the switch, then what are we complaining about at Duke? Are we mad that the story is out there or that we can’t hack it?
Look, I know the public education system that the majority of us will have to use isn’t top notch. But that’s probably largely in the inner city where it seems like most of us aren’t exactly coming from anymore. And I’d bet money that most of the Black students at Duke aren’t exactly coming from southeast DC, the south Bronx, the west side of Atlanta, or Compton. Most are probably suburban children and/or private school kids. So their education is probably better than what a lot of us received at various stages (except for you bougie ninjas). Yet and still, many of us can’t hack it.
Now, if you ask me, that’s the study that needs to be looked into. When you control for socio-economic status, are these same Black students not able to cut the mustard? If not, are we going to blame racism and slavery for that? And that’s a real question. Seeing as Duke is a private school and considered an elite institution, I’m guessing their application process is itself more rigorous and they are accepting students who would likely meet a higher education standard. This is my assumption. Anybody can feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.
So what the hell is really going on then? I’m not insisting that that Black students aren’t as smart. Far from it. But perhaps some of these students learned a lesson that I learned at Morehouse really early on: game the system. The goal is to graduate. So maybe some of these ninjas are taking the path to least resistance and banking on the school attached to the degree to be able to take them far. Hell, isn’t that what many white people do anyway? Just because those white students aren’t changing majors doesn’t mean they’re excelling either. So if I’m beasting out with my English degree with a 3.9 and you’ve got a 2.7 in biology, and we all know that grad schools and the like care about your GPA, then perhaps I will feel like I’m winning.
I don’t know. And I don’t like the implication behind that either. Maybe we can blame hip-hop and this hustler mentality of dong what you need to do to get where you think you’re trying to go. Or maybe a lot of those kids don’t want to be STEM majors anyway (whole other discussion about that) and are thinking business and wall street or what most of us do…law school. Which if I’m not mistaken, wouldn’t require a STEM degree.
My point here is that while there are probably other factors involved, playing the slavery card (how I’m reading it) isn’t probably accurate. Maybe playing the “I get money, I-I get money” card is. Which means that some of those protests might be a bit ill advised. I can understand why Black people are up in arms. On its face, it sounds messed and politically motivated, but that doesn’t mean that what they’re stating didn’t happen. We just don’t like the implications behind it, even if maybe, just maybe, they’re accurate.
The paper’s authors — professors Peter Arcidiacono and Kenneth Spenner, and graduate student Esteban Aucejo — write that their work calls into question other studies that play down the academic difficulties initially experienced by those who benefit from race-conscious admissions by saying that such students eventually catch up with their nonminority peers in GPA.
Just wanted to add that I do think the authors here have some racial issues of their own to deal with (and I’m aware that Duke has a somewhat sordid history of racial issues in general).Clearly they’re not proponents of affirmative action, except their inability to see the forest for the trees (as academics) is a bit scary because at the end of the day, we DO end up with a lot more minorities with degrees which is better for society. Like your point was to intentionally disprove any benefit from race-conscious admissions without acknowledging that it might be harder to get into these schools than actually graduate? Sitchoazzdown.
But forget their reasons, and back to the actual findings. What say you? Thoughts?
Should we be mad about these findings? Should we be protesting studies like this? Or should we acknowledge that there’s truth there and then determine what the solution is, should one be necessary? Are these folks just not on our level?
Inquiring minds would like to know.
Sorry for the length. Heheheheh.
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Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is pretty fly (and gorgeous) for a light guy. He used to ship his frito to Tito in the District, but shipping prices increased so he moved there to save money. He refuses to eat cocaine chicken. When he's not saving humanity with his words or making music with his mouth, you can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking her fine liquors. Most importantly, he believes the children are our future. You can hit him on his hitter at panamadjackson@gmail.com.

  • I’d be interested to know where the kids came from. A high grade point average at a TAG school and several years of practicing the SAT/ACT are different than a high grade point average and two years of practicing for the SAT/ACT in a ‘regular’ school. I took a group of kids to a certain white university back in the late 90’s. They paraded all these people across the stage to talk about minority enrollment. But when queried about graduation rates, the story was a lot different. The kids were admitted but unprepared for the real rigors of the university. I’ve heard from friends who are currently college professors that some students don’t want to ask for help because they were used to being the shining stars of their ‘regular’ high schools. So maybe, instead of dropping out, the kids at Duke are choosing a major they’re more comfortable with and one where they’re confident in their ability to succeed.

    Or, as you said, they intend to go to graduate school so they choose majors that they believe will help them get a higher GPA and into grad school. Not that I did anything like that.

  • Elle Boogie

    I think it’s interesting how economics got magically separated from the other social sciences (because that’s the clique the authors are claiming). Also, I want to hear what William Darity has to say about this. Meanwhile, Ward Connerly has been exposed.

  • I am an African-American college female student I feel as thought the research and outlook is biased. Further more white people always find a way to put themselves ahead. Everytime we advance or excel in anything it becomes a problem. Not to mention common sense tells you go in the field of study you are passionate about and also go into the field of study you will excel in.

  • I’ll be the first to say it…..I’m a diehard North Carolina fan so naturally anything with “Duke” in it I’m going to side eye it.

    On the real, I went to an HBCU in NC that graduates more blacks in engineering than any school in the country. When I was a freshman, I initially majored in architectural engineering. I changed my major b/c I felt that majoring in Construction Management (CM) would best suit me for running a construction company (which I do now). I also felt that I wanted the option to go to b-school. The math and physics wasn’t a problem for me. And I know I’m not the smartest guy. My undergrad program in CM was less engineering intensive (math and physics) so naturally my GPA was higher.

    We know its a well known fact that some blacks aren’t prepared for college (especially STEM majors). I want to say they didn’t include the social-economic background of some of the people they studied (which would explain a lot of it).

  • andherewego

    I can’t. I don’t even know where to begin.

  • Um, it’s not just black students at Duke who switch from STEM majors to those in the social sciences/humanities.


    (That’s all I’ve got.)

  • Liz

    Hmm. As someone who started out as a hard science major and ended up in more of a humanities major (I still got a BS degree tho!) I think I kind of took this personal. But on the other hand, I have to think about what it was like for me, especially at a good white school, and when and why I made the switch.

    Initially I wanted to do both but the science major was just….uncute. I couldn’t imagine myself being in a lab all day for the rest or even a significant part of my life (maybe that’s part of the problem). Also, I discovered I had other interests…just kinda late. Maybe black kids tend to overcompensate and try out hard sciences first only to discover they don’t really like it. Or maybe in a hard science setting they realize they won’t get enough support and it’s unbearable. Who knows. I particularly liked science and math because I felt like there weren’t a lot of things to argue about. 2 plus 2 is always 4, but some essay grading could totally be subjective.

    All I know is, I am a much happier person because I pursued what naturally interested me, and I am proud and happy to say I use my undergrad learnings every day at work. Even if it is for the purposes of interviewing Idris Elba on video.

  • A Woman’s Eyes

    See, the litmus test on the strength of racism that will be used as fuel for the anti-affirmative action clan is on whether socio-economic differences within Black folks is looked into. And because it is not, all this does is promote the idea that Black people are a monolith that comes from the same socio-economic and academic roots.

    I’m more annoyed that Black students who switched to the humanities, excelled at it and are getting jobs based on their academic achievements (the irony!) and their school name are going to be treated as the Willie Hortons of 2012. We have an election coming up. Every election, the Republican mouthpieces look for a new set of trifling niggas to blame for their own mental illness called racism. Only in 2012 will the blame be due to non-triflingness.

  • TyRonda Smith

    I feel like there is truth there. I am still in undergrad and am double majoring in biology and psychology. There are so many students I know that started off as bio or nursing majors, and then changed it to psychology (which in my eyes is an easy major), social work, health administration, communications, or African American or women’s studies. All of these majors are considered easy by many Caucasians, and I for one am actually tired of seeing only a few black faces in my class! There are never more than 5 in any of my science classes but I see Black people all day everyday. I remember even talking to a few of my professors and they’ve been genuinely surprised that I can academically compete with many of their Caucasian or higher level minority students. I feel like as a solution we need to teach more students to not be afraid of math and science and really support working hard in those fields, because yea the goal is to graduate and with a high GPA, but if your field is considered easy and predominantly Black,do you really think there will be a lot of jobs in that field after graduating in an institutionalized society such as ours.

  • A Woman’s Eyes

    I just saw the caption *lol*

    I feel like there will be a “How dare they succeed” campaign platform coming up with the elections…

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