Purdue University Graduate School
2021.3.4 Petts.pdf (2.9 MB)

Racialized College Admissions

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posted on 2021-03-12, 15:30 authored by Amy PettsAmy Petts
Despite growing racial inequality in access to selective colleges, popular beliefs abound that college admissions practices are advantaging racial minorities over White students. Because racial minorities face numerous forms of inequality prior to applying college, there are two assumptions held about college admissions. First, people assume that colleges utilize affirmative action based admission practices to help students of color gain admittance and to increase racial diversity on-campus. Second, people assume that most people, particularly Whites, are opposed to all forms of affirmative action. In my dissertation, I challenge both assumptions. I consider how college admissions practice may disadvantage students of color and contribute to racial gaps in access to selective colleges. I ask how organizational and racial processes influence which racialized factors a college considers and how the factors a college considers influence enrollments for specific racial groups. In addition, I ask how the admission factors a college considers influence public sentiment. I find that an increase in racial minority enrollments results in colleges desisting in the consideration of factors known to increase racial minority enrollments. I argue that what a college considers when making admission decisions may be a mechanism for protecting the often-invisible White culture at selective colleges. In addition, I uncover how different racialized admission factors are associated with the representation of different racial groups—indicating that because the meaning of diversity is malleable, the criteria colleges use to admit students may be associated with divergent forms of diversity. Taken together my findings challenge the idea that college admission practices always advantage racial minorities and indicate that in some instances they can disadvantage students of color. Finally, I also discover that Americans, regardless of racial identity, tend to be opposed to admission practices that are perceived to be un-meritocratic like advantaging legacy students or explicitly considering race; but they do not oppose all attempts to increase racial minority representation—indicating that there are some forms of affirmative action that may have wider support in the general public than typically acknowledged


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Sociology

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Linda Renzulli

Additional Committee Member 2

Trenton Mize

Additional Committee Member 3

Robin Stryker

Additional Committee Member 4

Rachel Dwyer

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