“In summarizing, Harvard had a very good year, and I think whatever problems that did exist as a result of the controversy are a thing of the past,” said Managing Editor of the journal Bruce Slater, referring to Cornel West’s 2002 departure and Stanford’s subsequent replacement of Harvard as the university with the highest black yield.
“I think the negative publicity surrounding the event probably turned off some students, but two or three years down the road students who are freshmen now were in eighth grade, and were probably not even aware of it,” Slater said. “Time kind of glosses over the problems that existed before. Harvard is very attractive to a lot of black students. Everyone wants to go to Harvard, I think that’s true for whites and blacks.”
Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 said he wants it to stay that way.
“I don’t think there is any national institution in the country that’s more aggressive in outreach and recruitment efforts,” Fitzsimmons said. “The one thing we understand is that every year the competition will be extremely intense. We know every year we’ll have to pull out all the stops.”
Fitzsimmons said the yield at Harvard is remarkable given that it doesn’t offer merit scholarships, unlike some of its competitors. He points to the college’s new financial aid initiative as a factor which has been stimulating interest among potential applicants, whether they are from low-income backgrounds or not.
“In the end the top African American students in the country will go to great institutions,” he said. “We obviously hope they’ll come here.”
Both Fitzsimmons and Senior Admissions Officer Roger Banks emphasize the importance of current Harvard students in outreach and recruitment efforts.
“Harvard students are our best ambassadors,” said Banks, who is also the director of the Undergraduate Minority Recruitment Program (UMRP). “If you were to survey African American students that decide to come here, I don’t doubt an important part of the decision is the contact they have had with students.”
Head student coordinator and African American representative of the UMRP Tanya A. Thompson ’06 said she has noticed that recent applicants are more informed about college in general and are asking more questions about Harvard’s atmosphere rather than details about the application process.
“I think that’s great because what’s really important is not how many Nobel Prize winners are on staff but that you’re going to be at a place where you’re happy and comfortable,” said Thompson. “I’ve loved my time at Harvard, it’s amazing, but it’s not necessarily the best place for everyone, and I really think it’s important to be honest.”
Thompson points to the new financial aid initiative and the student events fund as ways in which Harvard is really making an effort to improve students’ lives, both for black students and in general. She also thinks the black community has “stepped up” in recent years.
“It’s great that the black community has kept pace with what I see as Harvard’s move toward improvement,” Thompson said. “It’s a better place for black students when they’ve got these two communities that are really strong.”
One of the first-years she talked to as an UMRP was Jamal A. Gorrick ’09. Tanya called him the summer after junior year to encourage him to apply, whereas all the other colleges waited until he had sent in an application. She emphasized the strength of the black community at Harvard and assured him that it was different from his private high school, where he was, in his words, the “token black kid.”
“Talking to Tanya allowed me to see it was even possible for me to get into an Ivy League. Before, I wasn’t even considering it,” said Gorrick. “After talking to her I was like ‘Wow, it’s possible to go to Harvard.’”
Gorrick applied early decision and is “absolutely positive” he made the right choice.
Of the universities surveyed by the journal, Harvard came in sixth in terms of black students as a percentage of the student body. Harvard’s overall yield was 78.5 percent for 2005, almost 10 percentage points higher than the figure for black students.
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