College can be a difficult time. Not only are many trying to “find themselves,” but students are also forced to decide on what career path their lives will take. Because of this, many students often switch majors in an attempt to figure out what works best for them. While this practice may be common place, a new research paper at Duke University has some black student crying foul.

An unpublished report titled “What Happens After Enrollment? An Analysis of the Time Path of Racial Differences in GPA and Major Choice,” took a look at Duke’s 2001 and 2002 freshman classes, and concluded that black students switched to “easier” majors at disproportionally higher rates than their white counterparts.

The Herald Sun reports:

It found that among students who initially expressed an interest in majoring in economics, engineering and the natural sciences, 54 percent of black men and 51 percent of black women ended up switching to the humanities or another social science. 

By comparison, 33 percent of white women and just 8 percent of white men made the switch to majors that are considered less rigorous, require less study and have easier grading standards. 

According to the paper, 68 percent of Duke’s black students but less than 55 percent of white students ended up majoring in the humanities or social sciences other than economics. 

The paper’s authors–professors Peter Arcidiacono and Kenneth Spenner, and graduate student Esteban Aucejo–suggest that the switch to seemingly less rigorous majors suggest that black students who benefit from affirmative-action programs are less prepared for more difficult majors, and therefore switch to less demanding areas of study. They also argue that “attempts to increase representation [of minorities] at elite universities through the use of affirmative action may come at a cost of perpetuating underrepresentation of blacks in the natural sciences and engineering,”

According to the Herald Sun, the report was submitted as a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court by opponents of affirmative action. It argues that previous data showing the GPAs of black students were similar to their white peers aren’t necessarily accurate because black students, according to report’s authors, tended to pursue less difficult areas of study.

Black students at Duke are pushing back against the paper’s findings, which also noted that children of alumni switched majors at similar rates. The Black Student Alliance (BSA) sent a letter to the local NAACP branch about the ramifications of the research paper.

The BSA explains, “The implications and intentions of this research at the hands of our very own prestigious faculty, seemingly without a genuine concern for proactively furthering the well-being of the black community is hurtful and alienating.”

The BSA also noted that the paper neglected “to account for the societal, complex and institutional factors that must be considered in any attempt to delineate trends in racial differences in grade point averages and major choices, in a scholarly manner.”

What do you think? Does this information speak to the validity of Affirmative-Action or are the paper’s authors just race-bating? 

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