College Viewbook Photos Mislead on Question of Diversity

Diversity by Number, as Easy as Paint by Number?

An article from Mike Dang from The Prereq. points to the use value of diversity as opposed to its lived reality. It seems that 75% of colleges overrepresent the student body’s actual diversity.

By Mike Dang

What you see in glossy college brochures is rarely what you get. According to Inside Higher Ed, a sociology professor and an undergrad at Augsburg College recently looked at the viewbooks of 371 four-year colleges selected at random and counted the number of racially-identifiable students in photographs. When they compared their numbers to the actual student body data schools had on file, they found that colleges were not giving an accurate picture of what students actually looked like on campus. Here’s what they found:
Black students made up an average of 7.9 percent of students at the colleges studied, but 12.4 percent of those in viewbooks.
Asian students make up 3.3 percent of real students on average and 5.1 percent of portrayed students in viewbooks.
Despite a growth of in the Latino student body, there were relatively few students who could be clearly identified as Latino in the photographs.
75 percent of colleges appeared to overrepresent black students in their viewbooks.

Timothy D. Pippert, author of the study, said he didn’t think that colleges were acting “maliciously” but wanted to send a positive message out to prospective students, that “this is a place where you’d be welcome.” Still, there’s something awfully sleazy about grabbing the two minority students on campus and sticking them in a photo to create a false impression of diversity. In 2000, UW-Madison doctored a photo used on the cover of its admissions brochure to create a less-white impression. After they were called out by reporters at one of UW-Madison’s campus newspapers, the university decided to print a different photo.

College Viewbook Photos Mislead on Question of Diversity

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