Working thesis

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Research Question: How have different historians/researchers interpreted the reason for why Caribbean immigrants have become overrepresented in U.S Colleges and Universities over the last few decades?

Prior to the 1960’s educational opportunities for African-Americans were virtually nonexistent due to De Facto and De Jure segregation. After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned discrimination in education, educational opportunities for Blacks in the United States transcended. To ensure change, President Lyndon B. Johnson initiated various “Affirmative Actions” to increase black enrollment into the education system. President Johnson reasoning for this initiative was restitution for Nation’s past failures to accommodate for African-American needs and desires (Waters,1999).  However, recent data has shown that immigrants, especially Caribbean immigrants, are disproportionately more represented than native blacks in the most selective U.S Colleges and Universities. Are African-Americans really benefitting from Affirmative Action? Was this really the intent of the Civil Rights Act? Maybe not, but current statistics have proven it to be the current trend across the Nation. Over the past few decades many theories have been proposed to provide an explanation for this phenomenon. The most popular theories have come from sociologist and historians Mary C. Waters, Douglas Massey and his colleagues, David Glenn, and Pamela R. Bennett and Amy Lutz. These experts have postulated various reasons for why Caribbean immigrants have become overrepresented in U.S Colleges and Universities over the last few decades ranging from admissions admitting more Caribbean Immigrants because they possess objective characteristics such as higher grades or better test scores to residential location.

Mary C. Waters is a professor of sociology at Harvard University who specializes in studying the different aspects of immigration. Her research specifically focuses on inter-group relations, the formation of racial and ethnic identity among the children of immigrants, and challenges of measuring race and ethnicity. She is also the author of a well written book titled Black Identities: West Indian Immigrants Dreams and American Realities. In this book she utilizes testimonies from West Indian teachers, American teachers and legislators, and West Indian Students to formulate her ideology that the location of where West Indian Immigrants decide to live once they have arrived in the U.S influences their educational achievement. A thirty-seven year old Jamaican teacher, who has lived in the U.S for seven years, expressed that she would rather live in a neighborhood where the population was racially balanced between whites and minorities primarily because her child will be more comfortable and there would be more educational opportunities for them to explore (Waters, 1999). Another major factor that Waters mentioned as contributing to this shift in overrepresentation is the change in importance of schooling amongst parents of West Indian children due to the change in the economy.The parents of West Indian children did not mind doing someone’s housework or being a nurse’s aide when they were adolescents (Waters, 1999). Therefore, they were not particularly motivated to go to college and receive formal education.  On the contrary, West Indian children of this generation do not want jobs of that caliber. The jobs that they desire require a college education, so in order to fulfill their dreams they must enroll into a good college or university.

After the implementation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 many other policies were introduced that rectified the educational system. Amongst these policies was the loosening of immigrant restrictions after 1965. Due to this alteration the number of black immigrants more than doubled between the 1980’s to 1990’s. Specially speaking Afro-Caribbean’s accounted for 70% of foreign black population, consisting of 2.1 million (Massey et al., 2007). This leniency in immigration laws allowed more blacks to infiltrate into selective U.S colleges and universities. Douglas Massey along with his colleagues Margarita Mooney, Kimberly C. Torres, and Camille Charles conducted a study with 1,028 blacks, 959 whites, 998 Asians, and 916 Latinos to observe the discrepancies between Black Immigrants and Black Natives attending selective colleges and universities in the United States (Massey et al., 2007). Through their research they were able to gather substantial data that allowed them to frame plausible explanations for why Caribbean Immigrants are overrepresented in colleges and universities in the United States. Of all their explanations these three were the most popular; admissions officers might target immigrants for recruitment because they understand that Caribbean Students are more motivated, driven, and likely to succeed, and/or because they possess objective characteristics such as higher grades or better test scores, and/or admission officers consider documented information about how whites generally feel more comfortable with black immigrants as opposed to black natives (Massey et al., 2007).


  1. Waters, Mary. Black Identities: West Indian Immigrant Dream and American Realities. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999.
  2. Massey, Douglas, Margarita Mooney, Kimberly Torres, and Camille Charles. “Black Immigrants and Black Natives Attending Selective College and Universities in the United States.” American Journal of Education 113, no. 0195–6744 (February 2007).
  3. Ogbu, J. U. and Simons, H. D. (1998), Voluntary and Involuntary Minorities: A Cultural-Ecological Theory of School Performance with Some Implications for Education. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 29: 155–188. doi: 10.1525/aeq.1998.29.2.155

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    Shantel Hanniford

    My name is Shantel Hanniford and I am currently a Junior at Trinity College. I was born in Jamaica but grew up in Nantucket, Ma with my father and my step-mother. I am double majoring in Educational Studies and Psychology. I am also a member of the Women’s Basketball team and a social-chair for the Caribbean Student’s Association on campus.

    2 thoughts on “Working thesis”

    1. This is some interesting stuff. It reminds me of John Ogbu’s theory that deals with involuntary and voluntary minorities and why voluntary minorities succeed in American education system at a higher rate. Although his theory is highly debated my suggestion would be to check it out and try and connect it to the story you are trying to tell. <— here is an example of the kind of stuff he talks about. If you think that it pertains to your research you should definitely find a scholarly article of his and connect it to reasons why Carribean students are more successful. I also thought that your draft is very well written and it seems like you've already put in alot of effort on the research. I like the fact that your topic seems pertinent to you and I can tell by reading that you are already an expert on the topic. After reading the research criteria it looks like you are on the right track your paper is persuasive and it has me pondering. I wonder what kind of images or charts you can use.

    2. Your research topic is interesting. I like how the research essay is one that resonates with you. I think the wording of the research question could be improved. When you talk about Caribbean immigrants being overrepresented in United States colleges and universities, I would recommend mentioning in the research question that you are comparing Caribbean immigrants to African Americans/native blacks. In the introduction you should mention around what year or decade did Caribbean immigrants become overrepresented in United States colleges and universities? You should also mention explicitly how it has change/continuity over time to meet the assignment. Is it increasing tremendously? What are the trends? I like how you incorporate the historical, political, and economical contexts that shape the educational attainment of West Indian students in the United States. It gave adequate background for readers unfamiliar with the topic. I recommend looking at John Ogbu’s work. Ogbu addresses why immigrant minorities are relatively more successful in school than non-immigrant minorities. He looks at immigrant versus involuntary minorities to explain unequal educational outcomes by analyzing the history of minority groups’ relationship to United States society. I think you have a good start of your paper. Great job!

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