Many well known colleges and universities were established as early as the 17th Century making an effort to establish themselves as very prestigious institutions. They upheld high standards and morals in their students to ensure that their reputations would remain untainted. Colleges began their admissions process by simply accepting students who could financially afford to attend their institutions, sometimes regardless of their racial make-up. It was very rare that they would accept students of color; with the help of psychological advances like phrenology it was thought that students of color were intellectually inferior. With the threat of students of color attending their institution, many institutions enacted regulations that forbade the acceptance of any student of color. With historic events like the Civil Rights Movement, they turned to nationally recognized college access programs like A Better Chance to increase its population of students of color.
This paper will focus on three liberal arts schools that have changed the way they pool students into attending their institutions; Wesleyan University, Amherst College, and Trinity College. Within the last twenty years, these institutions have employed access programs in their admissions process to admit students of a demographic much different from what they usually do. Currently, Wesleyan University, Amherst College, and Trinity College, are partners with A Better Chance, QuestBridge, and the Posse Foundation respectively. By focusing on these institutions, a clearer view of how colleges and universities attempt to diversify their classes and campuses without looking at every single institution in America.
Wesleyan University- Pre-Civil Rights
Founded in 1831, Wesleyan University began its historic start as a Methodist Institution enrolling 48 students of various ages (Wesleyan University, par. 1). The college’s first president Willbur Fisk was a Methodist educator that is well known for his statement on the purpose of education. According to the educator, education serves the purpose of the good of the student and of the world (Wesleyan University, par. 3). Unfortunately not all students of Wesleyan University felt that this positive purpose included the education of African American students. According to the school’s student run newspaper The Wesleyan Argus, the college’s first African American student Charles B. Ray attended the institution for seven weeks in the fall of 1832 after harsh racist acts he dealt with from white (mostly southern) students (Argus, par. 1). These students pleaded with Fisk to expel Ray; some even threatened to withdraw their attendance from the school. After Ray’s withdrawal from the school, the board of trustees at the time passed a resolution that stated “None but white male persons shall be admitted as students at this institution” (Argus, par. 1).
After the regulation was repealed in 1835, students of color rarely attended the university and worse, the school did not embrace racial integration. A little more than two decades later, students like Thomas F. Barnswell were able to attend the institution, with few of them graduating (Potts, 55).
So how did Wesleyan University change from an institution that banned the attendance of students of color, to one that is partners with a bridge program whose goal is to give academically able students of color a chance to attend school at well known institutions?
Future Planning: I plan to speak about Amherst and Trinity College’s race relations before the Civil Rights Era. After explaining efforts to segregate/integrate by faculty/trustees/students, I will examine how these institutions began working with access programs like A Better Chance and QuestBridge . I will then analyze the relationship between access programs
- David Potts, Wesleyan University, 1831-1910: Collegiate Enterprise in New England (Wesleyan University Press, 1992).
- Liz Wojnar, “A ‘Stronghold of Southern Depostism’: First African American Student Left Because of Discrimination,” The Wesleyan Argus (November 6, 2009), http://wesleyanargus.com/2009/11/06/a-stronghold-of-southern-despotism-first-african-american-student-left-because-of-discrimination/
- Wesleyan University, “WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY: A BRIEF HISTORY” (Wesleyan University, 2012), http://www.wesleyan.edu/about/uhistory.html.