Princeton’s Noliwe Rooks Talks Affirmative Action’s Effect on Black Enrollment in the Ivy League

Princeton's Noliwe Rooks Talks Affirmative Action's Effect on Black Enrollment in the Ivy League

Noliwe Rooks has played an intricate role in raising awareness on the issues of race in America and women’s rights for more than 14 years. She has written and edited several award-winning books, including Hair Raising: Beauty, Culture and African-American Women and Ladies’ Pages: African-American Women’s Magazines and the Culture That Made Them.

As the associate director of African American studies at Princeton, Rooks has witnessed the shift in black faculty, staff and students over the years.
With several states adopting bans on affirmative action (California, Michigan, Arizonia, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Washington) when considering college admission, the future of black enrollment at colleges across the nation is in jeopardy.

Rooks spoke with rolling out about how a ban on affirmative action will affect black enrollment in Ivy League schools. –amir shaw

What have you noticed most about the shift in African American students at Princeton since you began your tenure?
I’ve discovered that at highly selective schools, the black students are overwhelming of Caribbean and African descent. You find more black students are here, but most of those black students have parents who are recent immigrants.  That’s also causing an economic shift. Normally, immigrants from the Caribbean and of Nigerian descent are well educated and wealthy. But some people are trying to figure out what that means for affirmative action, which is based on a legacy of slavery in America. America still has a hard time talking about race in a grown-up way.

Has there been a significant shift in black faculty and staff?
We were able to hire more black faculty when the Center for African American Studies was opened in 2006. But the number of black faculty went down afterwards. Now the board of trustees has convened a committee to discuss diversity at the graduate level, faculty and staff. However, the number of black students overall has increased. I think it will be interesting when the U.S. Supreme Court decides this summer if affirmative action should be eliminated at institutions like Princeton. Other places where we’ve seen that happen have been affected tremendously.

What is at stake?
The U.S. Supreme Court is only looking at race-based factors that lead to admission. The three areas that people often mention is athletes, legacies and race-based admission. Legacies make up one-third of the students. And a lot of people are saying that the issue is now about class and not race. These are conversations, but race is the only thing that the U.S. Supreme Court will look at. And given the make up of the court, it’s hard to believe that they won’t strike it down.

How will this affect minority enrollment at Ivy League schools?
First, you have to understand what affirmative action really means. At Princeton, they give different weight to test scores. For black students, they give an extra 150 points on the SAT. Asian students, they take 200 points away. They give white students 50 points. You have to know the full meaning of affirmative action. Some students see it as unfair. It’s messy, but people have to go through that messiness. But it’ll be epically tragic for black and minority students if they strike down affirmative action for the next generation.

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