Harvard's Record-High Percentage of Black Students Is a (Very Small) Win for Diversity

African Americans made up a record-high 11.9 percent of Harvard's accepted class of 2018, but while that improved diversity is cause for some applause, it isn't too far removed from rates a few years ago.

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African Americans will make up 11.9 percent of Harvard's accepted class for next fall, and while that's being touted as a record high for the school, it's actually right in line with previous years. Of the accepted students in the last record class, three years ago, 11.8 percent were African American, almost exactly the same.

Harvard's lack of racial diversity came into focus this year with the "I, Too, Am Harvard" movement, a Tumblr, play, video, and hashtag with the focus of "highlighting the faces and voices of black students at Harvard." That movement featured multiracial students pointing out the ignorant and sometimes-racist remarks of classmates, with statements like "You aren't black on the inside."

Though there's no evidence that the class of 2018's record numbers are a reaction to that negative attention, the higher rate of African American students is praiseworthy. "There was a time when black students were not allowed to attend Ivy Leagues universities," Huffington Post writes. "This year, Harvard University proved just how far they’ve come from that part of their history."

But the idea that Harvard has somehow passed a major milestone on diversity is a bit overstated. Except for a dip to 10.2 percent for the class of 2016, the percentage of the accepted class of students that is African American has stayed relatively flat over the past five years.

For the class of 2015, African Americans made up 11.8 percent, and the class of 2017 was made up of 11.5 percent African Americans. The class of 2018's rate of 11.9 percent is only a tad above those, and may turn out to be just a one-year increase.

Both the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education and The Root compared that increase with the percentage of Williams College students that are African American. At Williams College, 165 African American students were accepted to the class of 2018, making up 14.3 percent of the school's accepted students. That's a "whopping" number according to Journal, but it's actually lower than the year before, when the accepted class of 2017 had 183 African Americans, a rate of 15.8 percent of admitted students. And Williams College's accepted class of 2016 had 163 African Americans, which made up 13.7 percent of all accepted students. So while that 14.3 percent is "whopping" in the sense that it is greater than many other top-tier schools, that's right in line with U.S. population as a whole, and still below slightly below the nationwide rate of 15 percent of all college students,

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.