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The "Jelly Donut" Model
of Diversity

The role of diversity in law school admissions is hazy -- and the more litigation that is threatened, the hazier it will be. However, the Supreme Court has approved the model of diversity for the benefit of all students. Conversations about diversity so often overlap and are confused with discussions of affirmative action that I thought a new, discrete metaphor might help; so I came up with the donut analogy.

Imagine you're at a conference.  As there so often is, there's a table with coffee, tea, and donuts out in the hall.  We're about to go into a workshop and I say to you, "Hey, grab some donuts for us."

You go over to the table.  There are hundreds of donuts.  But to your dismay, most of them are plain white sugar donuts -- hundreds of sugar donuts!  But you notice sporadic blotches of color.  Over here there are a dozen chocolate-iced; in another spot you see some with colored sprinkles.  Here are a few cinnamon apple, and in the far corner you see half a dozen jelly donuts.  what do you choose to bring into the room?

If you're gathering a dozen donuts, you won't reflect the proportion on the table.  You'll probably grab three or four sugar donuts, and a few each of the others. But almost certainly you'll show up with a couple of jelly donuts!

Why?  Because we like diversity!  

Americans thrive on choices.

 I once read that immigrants from former Soviet countries were often overwhelmed by the selections they face in the supermarket; how many brands of bread, of toothpaste, of laundry soap, for heaven's sake?!  Even meat comes in brands!  Variety -- a/k/a diversity -- is the American way.

So why should an admissions officer be any different?  Faced with hundreds of similar-looking applicants, the decision-maker may very well gravitate towards the more colorful ones (no pun intended).  They won't take an inferior person just because they're different, any more than you'd take a squashed-looking chocolate cruller just because it was chocolate.  But they will look for people who stand out -- and those people are often minorities.  

How often? Take a look at this graph of applicants in 2005:  

That blue line at the top represents applicants who identified themselves as white, and the second-highest line represents the applicants who didn't specify; all those tiny little bands at the bottom are the different minority groups.  All minorities combined total just over 25,000, while Caucasians plus unidentified and unknown (the two blue lines) total about 65,000.  If you were standing at that table full of donuts, which would you take?  

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