In the 2019 edition of The Princeton Review (The Best 384 Colleges: 2019 Edition), the University of Richmond maintained its reputation as one of the top-rated universities in the nation. UR ranked among the top 20 schools for dining options, health services, library facilities, study abroad programs and popularity of Greek life. It ranked among the top 10 schools for athletic facilities and quality of life among students and for having a beautiful campus. The university ranked among the top five schools for career services, classroom experience and internships, and it was ranked the No. 3 best-run college in the country. Incredible!
UR has celebrated its well-deserved honors. “[Y]ou can’t blame us for wanting to brag,” noted a sorry-not-sorry article published on the Spider Pride website ahead of the start of the fall semester. And brag the university did, listing 11 of its 14 top-20 rankings. I can only assume leaving out our No. 3 rank for internships was a simple oversight, and I can’t blame the university for withholding news of ranking as the No. 13 school for widespread beer drinking.
The remaining ranking that was excluded from UR’s prideful celebration of PR rankings was being rated as the ninth worst campus for cross-racial and cross-class interaction. Out of curiosity, I looked up PR’s methodology to see how this item was measured. Current students were asked to what extent they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: “Different types of students (black/white, rich/poor) interact frequently and easily.”
I regularly teach a sociological research methods course, which extensively covers survey methodology. I would be remiss to not comment on the aforementioned measure.
My current methods students were aghast to learn that such a poor measure was being used – one that is considered “double-barreled” in two ways. A better measure would ask about cross-racial and cross-class interactions separately, as they may be vastly different. An ideal measure would ask about the frequency and ease of cross-racial or cross-class interactions separately, as well. For example, there could be frequent, yet tense cross-racial contact, or infrequent, yet easy cross-class interaction.
I lost even more faith in these rankings when I learned that participation is voluntary, with students having to know the survey even exists and where to find it. Sample sizes range from 20 to 1,000 across every university included in the annual report.
Despite these concerns about validity (or accuracy) of the measure, I wanted to see whether it has been reliable over time.
In the Boatwright Memorial Library on campus, I was able to find Princeton Review Best Colleges reports as far back as 2005. For several years, UR was ranked as one of the 20 worst schools for interactions among students of different races and classes. However, from 2011 to 2018, the university was not among the top 20 for little/tense cross-racial and cross-class interactions nor among the top 20 for lots of/amicable interactions among those of different races and social classes.
Even if we dismiss The Princeton Review’s measure of race/class relations as being invalid, it is noteworthy that UR fell among the worst schools in the nation for interactions among students of different races and social classes – seven times out of the last 15 Princeton Review annual reports of the best U.S. colleges.
Perhaps the ninth-place ranking in 2019 is a fluke. Indeed, nearly half of the 60+ schools that appeared in the PR rankings for these categories between 2005-2019 were listed only once in the 16-year span. Only 2020 data will tell.
Maybe white and/or wealthy students who took the survey expressed growing resentment toward the increasing percentage of students of color, working-class students and first-generation students, as well as initiatives aimed at recruiting, retaining and supporting these marginalized students. Or maybe racial and class tensions actually increased in the past couple of years.
What I will say is that if we are skeptical of the No. 9 ranking for little race and class interaction, then we must also be skeptical of the 13 other top-20 rankings. Or we can celebrate all of the positive rankings, but also acknowledge the negatives while committing to rectifying the attendant problems.
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Since The Princeton Review released its 2019 rankings, UR has remained silent about the “little race/class interaction” ranking, but it touted its No. 4 rank for diversity and affordability in The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) 2018 Sustainable Campus Index report.
To be an institution with integrity, we cannot cherry-pick which rankings we acknowledge and which ones we ignore. Indeed, we hold our students to that standard, holding them accountable for poor performance and missteps while also celebrating them for excellence. We must interrogate what it means to be a campus that is increasingly diverse and increasingly segregated.
We owe it to ourselves to be a model institution for recognizing difficult problems and eagerly, persistently addressing them – not one that brags about its accomplishments to mask its failures.
Dr. Eric Anthony Grollman is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Richmond, teaching courses on gender, sexuality, race, class, intersectionality and health.
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