OPINION: Stop the ‘diversity paparazzi’ in college recruitment

A stand filled with Pomona College brochures stand next to the Pomona College Admissions Office front doors.
Admissions brochures are full of “diversity” photos. But until colleges can promise on-campus inclusivity, such representation is unethical, argues Ashley Park CM ‘25. (Ella Bradley • The Student Life)

Sometimes, it can feel as though the most diverse place on campus lies within the stacks of brochures and flyers that sit in admissions buildings, ready to convince prospective students and parents of impressive academic diversity. And while it’s certainly great to see that students of color in academia are being recognized and represented rather than treated as though invisible, it’s easy to feel conflicted about the representation.

In 2020, the Claremont Colleges committed to various initiatives for fostering inclusivity amidst national outrage after the tragic murder of George Floyd. Still, there remains work to be done when it comes to actually creating an inclusive environment on campus. Seeing your face plastered on marketing materials for an institution you might not necessarily feel supported by can be psychologically damaging to students and undermines the inclusivity the 5Cs strive for. To ensure that minority students feel the effects of the Claremont Colleges’ initiatives to increase inclusivity, the colleges must address and remedy the current trend of intentionally seeking out students of color or “diverse” groups of students for school photographs. 

Minority students have been vocal about this uneven representation – often more so than their white peers. A related study found that minority group members tended to be significantly less favorable toward overrepresentation compared to other types of representation. Meanwhile, the negative effect of minority overrepresentation was not detected among majority group members, suggesting that while exaggerated minority representation may comfort white audiences, they tend to have the opposite effect on the minority students whom diversity efforts should be serving. 

The negative impact of this overrepresentation is not limited to students already on campus but also extends to prospective students viewing the brochures. For many minority students, diversity is a major criteria in deciding their future college. A higher education report found that the diversity of a college campus and its attitude toward inclusivity directly impact minority student retention rates

In other words, when a prospective minority student is misled about the on-campus environment for students of color, they are effectively endangering their likelihood of graduating from said college. If the Claremont Colleges wish to create an environment where students of all backgrounds can be successful, they must ensure that the air of inclusion on campus matches the image of diversity on the pamphlet. 

Increasing courses, grants and research regarding racial justice were all incredible initiatives undertaken by the 5Cs in 2020 to foster inclusivity at the institutional level; however, cultural and racial inclusivity is more difficult to foster at the social level, and the 5Cs still have a long way to go on that front. 

That photographers seem to have to explicitly seek out students of color at school functions reveals that while the campus may be diverse, campus events are often not. Culture-fests and affinity group-hosted dances are nice, but there needs to be a more conscious effort to make every party and event inclusive, not just those allocated specifically for POC. Minority students on campus deserve to feel safe at any and all on-campus events. 

A solution with long-term impacts that the Claremont Colleges can undertake to impact inclusivity would be to increase accurate representation at the admissions level. Understanding what’s at stake when colleges mislead prospective students, the 5Cs should ensure that all admissions and marketing teams are staffed with at least one Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) professional. Having a DEI officer be a part of projects such as brochure graphics can ensure that not only the result, but also the process of making the brochure, is inclusive and respectful of students of color. 

The answer to the call by students of color for better representation isn’t building a reputation of diversity – it’s building a deliberate culture of inclusivity. And until minority students can confidently say that they feel their campus home is inclusive, then the “diversity paparazzi” need to wait their turn. 

Ashley Park CM ’25 is from Claremont, CA. She loves the outdoors, watching “Community” and finding the perfect late-night snack.

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