A year after Donald Trump won the presidential election, the surprising result is continuing to spark broad discussions on whether colleges should do more to recruit conservative students and how such students are viewed on campuses.
This year, on an annual survey of admissions directors by the website Inside Higher Ed, 36 percent of responds — representing 453 unnamed institutions — “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that the election outcome showed that colleges should recruit more students from rural areas. Thirty-eight percent said that their colleges have started recruiting more students from rural areas since the election, 30 percent said they have since conducted more outreach to low-income Caucasian students and 8 percent reported recruiting conservative students specifically. Scott Jaschik, the editor of Inside Higher Ed, told the Washington Post that Trump’s victory prompted “soul searching” among colleges about whether their campuses are disconnected from the rest of the country.
At Yale, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan said the University prioritizes outreach to low-income students and ensuring that prospective applicants know about Yale’s diversity and affordability. But that those priorities predate the election, he added.
“We are not necessarily responding to national political events, but we have always been invested in geographic diversity,” Quinlan said. “We are focused on outreach to students in lower socio-economic backgrounds who traditionally did not think of Yale as a realistic college option.”
To reach more such students, Quinlan said, over the summer Yale expanded its direct-mail campaign to reach more than 30,000 high-achieving students who are likely to be from low-income households. Yale has also continued its ambassador program, which brings Yale students back to their high schools to talk about the University.
Quinlan added that he has not seen any evidence that Yale’s liberal slant deters conservative students from applying.
Over the course of the past year, leaders of many of Yale’s peer institutions have also underscored their commitment to diversity and low-income students in speeches, press releases and op-eds. But asked by the News whether they have conducted targeted outreach in the wake of the election, those universities — Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, Penn, MIT, Stanford and the University of Chicago — all either did not respond to requests for comment or declined to answer.
In her address this year to the incoming class, Harvard President Drew Faust promised to “continue to fervently defend our admissions processes, and the importance of diversity as essential to our educational philosophy.
An anti-affirmative action group is currently suing Harvard for discriminating against Asian-American applicants, but Faust maintained in her speech that Harvard upholds its commitment to diversity both in its admissions policies and in policies it enacts regarding student live. William Fitzsimmons, the dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard, did not respond to a request for comment from the News.
Logan Powell, Brown’s dean of admissions, wrote an opinion piece for the Brown Daily Herald this February, outlining the university’s commitment to recruiting first-generation students, visiting both public and private schools to conduct outreach and upholding need-blind admission for U.S. citizens.
“In the admission office, we know that Brown is a better institution when we invite diverse perspectives from students with intellectual passion and a deep conviction to contribute to and continue to strengthen the community,” he wrote.
Powell, however, declined to comment for this story “given the political subject matter.”
Despite the universities’ expressed commitment to admit and recruit a diverse pool of applicants, conservative student leaders at some Ivy League schools told the News they still often feel alienated by both peers and administrators because of their political affiliation. In a News survey last year, 95 percent of students who identified as conservative said fellow students did not welcome their political opinions.
Press Secretary of the Brown University Republicans Franklin Young said that the majority of students at Brown react negatively to opinions that differ from “prevailing liberal ideals” and that being an outspoken conservative on campus has social consequences ranging from “off-putting looks to public disassociation.”
Following the 2016 election, disapproval of conservative views at Brown increased as “conservatism became synonymous with support for racism, bigotry, xenophobia, among other negatives,” Young said. He added that members of his organization have found it difficult “to express our values on campus without being associated with the White House.”
According to Young, this atmosphere has made the group hesitant to host events on campus. Still, Young noted that political turmoil at Brown has “calmed down” and some students are now willing to learn about conservative culture and politics — “just not many.”
Aristotle Boosalis, president of the Columbia University College Republicans, said his professors have “leaned left” and that he and other conservative students often feel the need to choose between earning a good grade on an assignment and expressing their true political opinions. Boosalis also noted that many of his conservative classmates were hesitant to join the Columbia University College Republicans for fear of backlash from other students.
“Many people on this campus don’t tell their political affiliation if they’re on the right,” Boosalis said. “We have a lot of members who don’t even come to our meetings because they fear retribution from employers, friends and faculty.”
Two weeks ago, Boosalis’ group gained national attention when NYC Anti-Fascist Action posted flyers across Columbia’s campus with photos and names of the Columbia University College Republicans’ board members. The flyers implied that the group had invited racist speakers to speak at campus events and said “if you see [ CUCR board member] let [them] know what you think.”
According to Boosalis, the group went to Columbia’s administration to report this as harassment, but was told that there was nothing to investigate.
“When [conservative students] apply to these schools, it’s sort of concerning,” Boosalis said. “I don’t think they feel like they’ll be treated the same way as other students, and I can assure that I’ve not been treated the same as other students.”
Columbia University was founded in 1754.
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