The senior thesis I chose to critique was authored by Vandana Ramaswamy. Entitled "Racial Diversity and Integration at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill," it was submitted to the Public Policy Analysis curriculum in April, 1993.
In the paper's two-page introduction, Ramaswamy sets out her main thesis - UNC-CH is not laying the institutional groundwork necessary for harmonious race relations to exist between its students. "The current theory used to solve racial problems at our university has failed" (p 6). She informs her reader about several of the paper's structural aspects: that it uses everyday language in order to understand the problem "as students and experts it" (p 5); that only black-white relations will be examined (pp 5-6); that historical background on the issue of UNC-CH race relations will be minimized because "while history helps us understand why we are where we are, an obsession with history should not blind us to the obvious facts of our present situation" (p 6), and that "the research for this paper is primarily anecdotal" (p 6). Ramaswamy is very helpful to do this, because she alerts us at the outset about two major flaws that severely and repeatedly hamper her paper's effectiveness - a lack of historical context and over-reliance on anecdotal evidence.
Her problem definition encompasses fifteen pages. It begins by charging the university's current roster of programs designed to "relieve the existing racial tensions" with "(doing) just the opposite" (p 7), because they are "attacking the symptoms of the problems instead of the illness itself" (p 8). Ramaswamy lists what she considers to be "the real problems" (p 8) behind poor race relations at UNC-CH - one, the nation, including "schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, churches, and virtually every other aspect of our lives - remains segregated"; two, "a disparity exists between the academic performance of the black and white communities" (p 11); and three, "the intolerance of different views and the increasing racial hostility on campus" (p 12).
The previously mentioned problem of over-reliance on anecdotal evidence first appears in this section. Even worse, Ramaswamy relies on only one source, and one of questionable value, for much of her "anecdotal evidence" concerning the nature of UNC-CH race relations. In her paper's opening Acknowledgements, Ramaswamy tells us that she worked in UNC-CH student government for over a year with 1992-93 Student Body President John Moody, and that the paper "stems from" (p 2) the work she did with him. She quotes him at length from personal interviews for a total of five times over the fifteen pages of her problem definition. This places Moody in the same category with Ramaswamy's other sources for this section, such as Andrew Hacker, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Alexis de Tocqueville, Dinesh D'Souza, and Shelby Steele.
In contrast, the views of other UNC-CH students in the same fifteen pages are represented only when Ramaswamy quotes two sentences from an article in UNC-CH's Black Student Movement paper, the Black Ink (p 11); quotes the editor of the Black Ink, Corey Brown, from a tertiary source by citing a Carolina Alumni Review article in which Brown was interviewed; and quotes a one-sentence statement made by the 1992-1993 President of the UNC-CH Black Student Movement, Michelle Thomas.
To rely too heavily on any one source necessarily subjects one's analysis to the charge of personal bias. Also, the credibility of any sources chosen is critical. Just as one couldn't quote Ronald Reagan on the subject of the U.S. budget deficit and expect to be taken seriously, anyone who knows who Student Body President John Moody was would scoff at the suggestion that he was a race relations expert.
He ran what was considered to be the most blatantly race-based SBP campaign at UNC-CH of the past ten years against a minority female candidate, narrowly defeating her by only 43 votes out of more than 3,000 cast. His election campaign was largely premised on his opposition to a free- standing Black Cultural Center, and helped at the last minute by posters featuring an "endorsement photo" of himself standing outside a local fried chicken restaurant called "Time-Out" with a cook named Billy. During the night shifts at Time-Out, hundreds of drunken frat boys come in to buy chicken, and while waiting in line "good-naturedly" curse and harass the all-black cooking staff for not preparing their food fast enough. Billy's claim to fame is that he curses back at them. The nightly demeaning treatment that this restaurant's staff endures is a long-standing sore spot for Chapel Hill's entire black community. Moody devoted much of his one year administration to working against the nearly-realized construction of a free-standing Black Cultural Center, itself the main goal of the organized UNC-CH black student community for the past twenty years.
While the first and third purported "real problems" behind poor race relations at UNC-CH that Ramaswamy identifies are conceptually sound, the second is not. Her assertion that "a disparity exists between the academic performance of the black and white communities" (p 11) suffers from a fatal assumption that because "the above statement may not be fashionable to mention in today's climate" (p 11), it must speak to some essential truth and thus spelling it out is a courageous thing to do. This unconscious self-righteousness obscures the statement's basic flaws, which are outlined as follows.
There are a limited number of universities in the U.S., and the larger, more financially endowed ones have spent the past twenty-five years recruiting minorities with an aim to reach minority student population levels comparable with minority percentages in the general population. Highly prepared and better educated minority students are themselves a minority in comparison with the rest of their peers, just as the same is true of the white student population. This has created intense competition for the most qualified minority students among America's top colleges, and necessarily means that other, less prestigious schools have to reach further down in the academic pool to find enough minority students to assemble a student body that is representative in a racially proportionate sense. This might provide an argument for an end to race-based recruiting, but more importantly, provides evidence that while continued black/white socioeconomic differences are important, apparent racial discrepancies in academic performance are even more a product of inevitable majority/minority numerical discrepancies.
In light of the fact that UNC-CH is not an Ivy League institution, but a public university in a state where many poorer counties lack adequate education resources, and that five years of budget cuts have further steadily eroded its national rankings, it is no wonder that academic disparities exist between UNC-CH black and white students. Ramaswamy would have to provide statistics from schools like Harvard or Yale to prove her point about these disparities being racially based.
Another problem that pervades this paper is that it purports to examine the "increasing racial hostility on campus" (p 12), seemingly a multi-faceted issue, yet presents evidence of an amazingly one-sided nature. Repeated examples are given of statements made and actions taken by black students and their allies which have supposedly contributed to the "chilly climate" (p 21) of race relations on campus. No mention at all is made of racially antagonistic incidents for which white students were responsible, although a large number of high-profile ones have occurred on our campus in the past few years (a black Homecoming Queen's tires slashed, the posting of racist flyers on students' dormitory doors, the defacing of Martin Luther King Day posters with slogans like "KKK" and "No N-gger Homecoming Queen").
The paper is also sprinkled with weak arguments, half truths, and questionable assertions at every turn, such as "white students now feel attacked of being inferior because they are not black" (p 18); "by accepting the premise that black students are in need of support to withstand the oppression from other members of the university, the university reaffirms negative stereotypes of white students" (p 20); and "blacks of the 1960's thought differently than the student activists today" (p 22).
Discussing segregation in on-campus housing, Ramaswamy comments that "it has long since been known that the residence patterns on campus represent self-segregation" (p 43). No historical background is given that might explain how this pattern of housing segregation originated in the late 1960's, when black students were first being admitted to UNC-CH in large numbers and initially chose to live in the South Campus highrise dorms because of their recent construction and better amenity levels. Over time, the North/South campus housing gap between black and white students solidified into tradition, and could plausibly come to be seen as "self-segregation," but it is misleading to label this a clear cut case of self-imposed racial segregation without providing further context.
Similarly, when Ramaswamy says that "what is forgotten is that many students today have not oppressed anybody" (p 15), she is asserting that students have no need to learn about the system of institutionalized racism that existed in our country up until thirty years ago. White students of today may not have oppressed anybody, but we all must recognize that black Americans still feel the effects of past discrimination.
In her background section, which numbers thirteen pages, Ramaswamy presents a ream of statistics and the closest thing to historical background that one can find in her paper. Nearly all of the statistics come from Andrew Hacker's 1992 book Two Nations, although they originate from sources such as census data and the U.S. Office of Education. Hacker's book is a balanced treatment of the race relations issue, but again, the problem is that it is only one source. This necessarily weakens Ramaswamy's arguments. The statistics she cites are also national ones, and difficult to relate to the issue of UNC-CH race relations. Again, they also lack enough historical context for one to draw meaningful conclusions from them.
Finally, I found her policy recommendations to be either misguided or nothing out of the ordinary. This represented a let down from the sweeping buildup she gave them in the paper's introduction. Instead of bold new approaches that could creatively solve some of the race relations problems we have on our campus, Ramaswamy proposes the following: (1) an expanded academic support system for academic borderline students, both black and white (pp 46-50); (2) more comprehensive recruiting of non-minority students (pp 50-52); (3) integrated orientation programs (pp 52-53); (4) a redirection of the Office of Student Counseling's mission away from serving primarily minority students (pp 53-54); (5) random dorm assignation for freshman students (pp 54-55); (6) requiring fraternities and sororities to submit biographical information to the University indicating which rushees were accepted or rejected (pp 55-56); (7) eliminating different expectations for different racial groups (pp 57-58); and finally, but most importantly, (8) not building a free-standing Black Cultural Center (pp 58-68).
Recommendations one and five are reasonable, but nothing out of the ordinary. Number two would be counter-productive, it is doubtful that number six would do anything to encourage Greek system desegregation, and number seven is only a platitude with no specifics behind it. Recommendations three, four and eight seem to ignore the very theoretical foundations laid out at the paper's beginning, which is that "the problem our university is facing is still partly racial discrimination and a lack of racial diversity" (p 8). To propose eliminating the only support systems for minority students that exist at UNC-CH in the name of equal treatment for all students is actually attacking the solutions to the problem rather than the problem itself. To pretend that harmonious majority-minority relations in a society can be achieved without the need for creative, special measures to be taken in order to counteract natural human tendencies towards conformity, group solidarity and outsider prejudice is ignorant at best, stupid at worst.