Michelle Obama's senior year thesis in sociology at
That quote from the introduction had already led a friend of mine to say that the thesis was about “racial isolation at
I have advised and graded a good many undergraduate theses at outstanding institutions in my time, and this one was certainly superior. Her adviser allowed a writing slip or two to go through (one dangling participle stood out), and I was annoyed by the statement that institutions like Princeton had only started admitting black students in the 1960s. (Certainly they didn't admit very many, but Harvard, for one, started admitting a few in the late 1800s.) These are however minor points. The author assembled a mass of fascinating data, run it through a computer many times, and distilled rather striking results which often obviously surprised her, as well as her readers. Her attempts to explain some of her most challenging results were careful, even-handed, and provocative. Her presentation was invariably clear. And rather than draw any racially charged conclusions, she essentially let the results speak for themselves.
The effect of four years at
The striking result that the thesis revolved around was this. The most common result of attending Princeton for her respondents was to spend less time with white people and to become more receptive to separatist/pluralist ideologies than in their high school years. After graduation and moving into the work force, )
The thesis included another interesting finding. Asked whether they were more comfortable intellectually with blacks, whites, or both equally, a significant majority responded both equally (although once again, those choosing blacks rose as percentage when referring to their
The question that demanded a response, obviously, was why racial isolation and separatist attitudes increased at
I have recently been reminded of an interesting study by a psychologist of my acquaintance in the early 1980s (about the time Michelle was writing) about white male reactions to minorities and women. The study found that members of the majority did not instinctively look down upon minorities. Instead, their opinions tended towards extremes. They were inclined to see a smart black as smarter than he or she really was, and a less intelligent one as less intelligent still. I admit that I was impressed by the study because I realized that I probably shared that tendency myself. (To state the results a little differently, one might suggest that true assimilation occurs when one is entitled to be regarded as average!) I do not think I am falling victim to it in this case,