While Matt Jones–a.k.a. Magloire–bemoans The Devil’s Den for calling out the fallacy that Duke is “lily white,” we’d like to present a snapshot of the two universities for consideration of any visitors we may be welcoming over the next day or so.

(Granted, a comparative study does not necessarily vindicate one institution from being lily white, say, if one school were 88% white while another was 80% white. Considered alone, however, Duke’s undergraduate student profile is vindication enough. We present them alongside Kentucky’s figures for illustrative purposes only.)

University of Kentucky
2004 Enrollment: 18,492
% White: 88.3
% Black: 5.6

Duke University
2005 Enrollment: 6,244
% White: 56.0
% Black: 11.0
% Asian: 14.0
% Hispanic: 7.0

Furthermore:

Lexington, Kentucky
Population: 255,000
Percentage of citizens that are white: 80.5%
Percentage of citizens that are black: 13.3%

Durham, North Carolina
Population: 191,731
Percentage of citizens that are white: 43.0%
Percentage of citizens that are black: 40.6%

And as TDD poster “UH” reported:

Studies show that Duke is viewed favorably by 4/5 (80% if you can’t do the math) in Durham. That is pretty strong. The national media does its best to represent that fact differently. Here is an interesting unrelating stat. Members of the Durham community approved of the reinstatement of the lacrosse program in higher numbers than were seen nationally. The media again would have folks believe otherwise.

But there’s more:

The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education–on October 20, 2006–ranked America’s leading universities “according to their relative success in attracting, enrolling, and graduating African-American students as well as their progress in bringing black professors to their campuses. Universities are ranked according to a blending of 13 widely accepted quantitative measures of institutional racial integration.”

Duke University had the highest average diversity rating of the nation’s most selective and academically prestigious universities. Also ranking among the top five in racial diversity are Emory University, Princeton University, Washington University, and Vanderbilt University. It is of interest to note that three of the top five universities in our ratings are in southern states. Forty years ago, these institutions were lily-white. The progress they have made has been impressive.

1. Duke University (Average Score: 90.36): Duke finished at the top of our survey for the simple reason that it consistently ranked near the top for each category and did not rank anywhere near the bottom in any category. Duke finished no worse than ninth in any one of the 11 categories for which data was available. Duke also had the best performance among the top-ranked universities in its five-year gain in the percentage of blacks in its freshman class. For the 2001-02 academic year, blacks made up a striking 11.2 percent of the first-year class at Duke. This was up from 7.8 percent five years ago. Duke’s worst performing category was in the percentage of tenured faculty who are black. However, with a tenured faculty that is 2.7 percent black, Duke still was rated higher in this category than 17 of the other 26 high-prestige universities.

Clearly one explanation for the strong performance of Duke in so many categories is the sincere commitment of President Nan Keohane to racial diversity. Duke’s strong improvement in black faculty levels may be attributed to an incentive plan which makes it highly advantageous for academic departments to engage black faculty.

This high ranking does not mean that Duke University is a Shangri-la for black students. Serious racial issues remain on the Duke campus. Residential segregation has been a problem in recent years. Some observers have noted that there is little overall interaction between many black and white students on the Duke campus. Also, there has been a high rate of faculty turnover among blacks.

A decade ago, Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates Jr. called his one year experience at Duke the most racist experience of his academic life. But clearly the climate at Duke for both black students and black faculty has improved immeasurably since that time.

Duke, like all other elite institutions of higher education, has a long way to go in creating the ideal learning and living environment for all its students. But Duke is a leader in building that environment for any and all that matriculate. It has recognized its weaknesses, and is hell-bent on ameliorating them. This is the hallmark of a great university. Duke has issues with race, of course–but it is no lily-white institution, not in the least.

James Baldwin once wrote of the importance of facing an issue in order to overcome it. That is precisely what Duke has been doing throughout its decades of existence. And it has taken no issue more seriously than that of race relations on campus. Its tremendous strides in the past decade alone merit praise, not unfounded castigation.

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