Efforts to Attract Black Students

Special Minority Day Today for Prospective First-Years

Following record low matriculation of Black students to the College last fall, admissions officials have stepped up efforts to attract minority students to Harvard.

As part of the events this weekend for prospective first-years, today has been designated to address issues pertaining to minority students. Events scheduled include barbeques, dances, receptions and student and faculty panel discussions.

"We hope students will get the message that we're willing to take matters of diversity quite seriously," said Roger Banks, senior admissions officer and director of the Undergraduate Minority Recruitment Program.

According to Banks, this year's admissions process also employed more vigorous recruitment efforts and close cooperation with minority student groups to increase the pool of Black and minority applicants.

As a result, applications from Black students increased by nearly 200 from 1991--"not an insignificant boost in one year," Banks said. And admissions of Black students to the class of 1997 jumped to 215, a record number in the history of Harvard admissions.


Last year, University officials expressed concern after only 95 students matriculated in the Class of 1996 of 167 Black students admitted. The number of Black students admitted was average compared to previous years, but the matriculation rate was the lowest in recent memory.

According to a telephone survey conducted by the admissions office this summer, most of the Black students who turned down Harvard last spring had received better financial aid packages from other schools, Banks said.

But students involved in recruiting efforts said yesterday they are unsure that the College's strategy of boosting the number of Black students admitted will address the underlying problems that led many Black students to turn down Harvard last spring.

According to Undergraduate Minority Recruitment Coordinators Ouzama Nicholson '94, a major problem is the widespread perception that Harvard's atmosphere is not welcoming to minority students, including Blacks.

"In general, there are some negative perceptions about Harvard," Nicholson said. "When I go recruiting, students are not jumping to come to Harvard."

But Banks said that there is little evidence that these impressions account for last year's low matriculation. "That perception did not appear to hatch out in the survey," he said. "I think if people felt that it were an important issue, or an issue at all, they would not have been afraid to say so."

Not Only Aid Differences

Nicholson said financial aid is not the only determinant in minority students' decisions about coming to Harvard.

"Most people would be willing to say 'I'm going to forego the scholarship from the other school' just so they can be at Harvard," Nicholson said.

"My job is to encourage people to see Harvard as an option," she said. "I want to tell [Black prospective students] to come here... But maybe the best advice I could give them is not to come here," she said. "Or at least to think seriously about their notions of Harvard and what coming here will mean for them."

Murphy says that providing truthful answers to Black students' questions about life at Harvard is often a draw to the College.

"This is definitely a white institution and you can't deny that in any way shape or form," Murphy said. "And I let them know that."

"People expect a sales pitch from admissions offices," she said. "Honesty--that's turned more people on to our school that weren't seriously considering us before."

Recruitment Is Important

Murphy said, however, that "prefrosh" weekends can be an important part of the recruitment strategy. "The tactic is to get them excited and committed before they hear about other schools and financial aid packages," she said.

According to Murphy, the admissions office has considered scheduling "pre-frosh" weekend earlier in the spring in order to get a jump on other colleges' programs