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Doctored Diversity By: Roberta Leguizamon
FrontPageMagazine.com | Sunday, September 21, 2003

Many left-wing American universities are lying to their prospective students before they even set foot on campus. Their brochures depict ethnically diverse campuses committed to expanding would-be attendees’ social horizons. Their promises of a vibrant multi-cultural experience often attract unsuspecting minority students who believe what they see in the brochure is what they will get on campus. And then, once the ink is dry and the tuition check is cashed, they learn the truth: they are the diversity on campus.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Idaho have been caught digitally doctoring photographs in their promotional material in order to portray more diverse campuses to prospective students. Officials at Auburn University make no attempt at all to hide the fact that they regularly arrange for diverse photographs to be taken, sometimes even asking black faculty or staff to pose as students for several different pictures.

In fact, presenting the façade of diversity is one of the most popular ways of recruiting minority students. Most diversity counselors (yes, there is such a position) will suggest that a school seek out photo opportunities that draw a diverse crowd and fill their brochures, websites and other promotional materials with those images. Some schools have databases filled with “diverse” photographs to be used for publications. But when an institution’s promotional materials present a diverse environment, while your campus is actually quite different, this kind of advertising is nothing more than an exercise in deception and fraud. Yet to many, it’s simply a case of the ends justifying the means.


In September of 2000, the University of Wisconsin-Madison was red-faced when students at the Daily Cardinal, one of UW-M’s student newspapers, discovered a photograph in the university’s brochure had been “doctored” to include a minority student in an all-white picture. The picture of a black student was digitally inserted into a photograph of cheering white students at a football game.


Two weeks later, the University of Idaho removed a similarly doctored photograph from its website. In an article written by Wyatt Buchanan in the Idaho Argonaut, the artist responsible for the incident admitted creating the image because he didn’t have a photograph that showcased students of different races. In the doctored photograph, he had digitally inserted a black male and an Asian male over the bodies of two white students.


"It is important that we show the diversity in the University of Idaho," graphic artist David Embleton told Buchanan. But if the campus were so diverse, wouldn’t the archives have real, unadulterated photographs to reflect the teeming racial variety on campus? According to the Princeton Review, at least 81-percent of the student body at UI is white, while 1-percent is black and 2-percent is Asian. It is easy to see why finding such a photograph is a chore.


In an article written in 2000 in Auburn University’s The Auburn Plainsman, Scott Parrott described how Auburn officials purposefully manipulated photographs to illustrate Auburn’s diversity:


“The photo manipulations ranged from officials inserting identical photos of black students into different campus backgrounds to asking black employees to pose as students.”


Admissions Director Doyle Bickers told Parrott that the fake photographs do not misrepresent the campus atmosphere at Auburn, going so far as to insist the exact opposite is true. Parrott’s article recorded, “Bickers said Auburn is ‘trying to get a picture showing students an idea of what the life is like at Auburn University.’”


But if life at Auburn is as the photos suggest, why can’t they be find genuine photographs that depict the image they wish to project? Maybe because according the Princeton Review shows that about 88-percent of the student body at Auburn is white, 7-percent is black, 1-percent is Asian and 1-percent is Hispanic.


Dig a little deeper into Auburn’s history, and you’ll find something a little more telling about campus life for minorities: the school is so desperate to change its image. In October 2001, several racist incidents at Auburn made national headlines, causing the school to suspend 15 students who had dressed in Ku Klux Klan garb for fraternity Halloween parties. This disturbing event drew the attention of the NAACP, which sited this and other racist acts as “symptoms of a larger problem at the University and the surrounding community that stems from the lack of strong policy against racist acts, few ethnic studies and diversity courses and few African American faculty members.”


Auburn’s swift action in suspending the students and agreeing to make several changes conducive to a more tolerant and diverse campus drew accolades from the NAACP. But the problem isn’t making the commitment; it’s seeing results. Thus, Auburn unabashedly uses positioned pretenders in promotional material to bring more diversity to its halls.


Now, while it appears that most schools took a lesson from Idaho and Wisconsin, avoiding doctored photographs today, Auburn’s technique of inventing diversity is quite common.


In September of 2000, one student at the University of Missouri, Amy Sanders, complained about the photographs on her university’s website, saying the number of minority students throughout the site painted an inconsistent illustration of the university’s student body. In September 2003, there are 17 prominent students featured on the UM-St. Louis website, 7 of whom are black, Asian or Hispanic. That’s not including the random pop-up students randomly featured in while navigating the site, half of whom are black. That may suggest that approximately 41 percent of the student body consists of minorities. Yet, according to the Princeton Review, only approximately 13 percent of UM-St. Louis students are black, Hispanic or Asian.


Approximately 10 percent of Auburn’s student body consists of minorities. But you wouldn’t imagine that while examining the  Student Affairs of university’s website, which often features more black students than white.


The practice of “doctoring diversity,” of presenting a rich multiracial presence on campus where such a thing does not exist, is both dishonest and unethical. And while many universities succeed in attracting minority students using these methods, they often lose those students after one year, as those students realize they were duped by a flashy brochure. In the end, many hopeful minority students become dissatisfied students looking for a new school, while the paper diversity of their first college goes up in flames.


These days, administrators at colleges and universities around the United States go to great lengths to try to diversify their student bodies. The fact is, we have a culture that demands “diversity” and “cultural awareness.” But using a lie to turn a dream into reality usually just doesn’t work, nor is it the moral or ethical thing to do. Focusing on educating students, rather than racial groups, would be a good first step in reversing this ridiculous process.


*University Statistics are based on reports from the Princeton Review.

Roberta Leguizamon earned a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Ohio University and is a Contributing Editor to Frontpage Magazine.

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