The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

University of Mostly… Whites? UMW students fall victim to false advertising

3 min read
By GINNY BIXBY If you were to take a random sample of the freshmen on Move-In day and compare it to the students in photographs from the University of Mary Washington brochures and pamphlets, you may or may not be surprised to see that the number of minority students featured in our school’s marketing materials is a gross over-representation of the diversity on campus. UMW has fallen victim to the phenomenon of “minority branding.”

University of Mary Washington Magazine


If you were to take a random sample of the freshmen on Move-In day and compare it to the students in photographs from the University of Mary Washington brochures and pamphlets, you may or may not be surprised to see that the number of minority students featured in our school’s marketing materials is a gross over-representation of the diversity on campus. UMW has fallen victim to the phenomenon of “minority branding.”

As a first semester freshman, receiving hundreds, maybe thousands, of college brochures and advertisements in the mail is an all too fresh memory. It became too painful to sort through all the information and analyze whether or not the literature provided a realistic depiction of the institutions.

I ended up narrowing down my choices to the type of university I could quantitatively say that I preferred, those with relatively small student bodies, and then actually visited the schools to see how they measured up to their mailings.

Perhaps I am a cynic, but it came as no surprise to me that the students I saw at these schools did not match the students displayed in the brochures. It is evident that collegiate institutions across the country are coming to terms with their homogeneity by thrusting forth an image of anything but. This is called “minority branding,” a type of marketing fueled by the desire to attract more diverse applicants.

For me, I experienced a very diverse high school in Manassas, Virginia. The 2015 census of Manassas recorded that it is a city comprised of 73.3 percent white males and females, 15.1 percent African American and 34.7 percent Hispanic or Latin American.

In my high school I felt like I was the minority, however. I consider myself lucky to have been exposed to such a broad range of ethnicities. In contrast, my last few weeks at UMW felt like culture shock as I have encountered such a high volume of white students, like myself.

I know my background is just one example of diversity, however, UMW’s marketing suggests a similarly diverse demographic of students. UMW promotes diversity but in reality it is composed of a majority of white students, 69.2 percent according to College Factual. UMW’s Institutional Analysis and Effectiveness research provides a pie chart depicting campus diversity, however, it does not provide any numbers.

It should be noted that not only is the student body limited to one predominant race, it is also heavily composed of students who identify as cisgender, heterosexual and able- bodied. In this day and age, diversity is defined by not only ethnicities but by gender, sexuality and physical variance.

Is this an issue on the part of collegiate institutions, or is it an issue on the part of society? For collegiate institutions more students equal more money. In our society, however, it is still considered to allude to the ways in which ethnicities are preyed on.

However, as much as I have been disappointed by UMW’s misrepresentative minority branding, I am impressed by the strides the University has taken in order to become a friendlier environment for minority students through institutions such as the James Farmer Multicultural Center and the existence of gender-neutral housing. While the student body may not be the embodiment of diversity, it has definitely shown that it is open to it.

22 thoughts on “University of Mostly… Whites? UMW students fall victim to false advertising

  1. Might want to check the numbers in there. It shows the author’s high school as being more white than UMW (contradicting her fundamental point), but also having ethnic diversity that adds up to 123%.

  2. Any school’s mailings are going to show an idealized version of the college. Just like how you know there won’t ACTUALLY be a group of perpetually laughing, bright-eyed students sitting on the steps of Lee in the middle of the day. If the ads only showed white students, that would be a far more contentious subject. Obviously there are non-white students here, so leaving them out or not representing them would be weird. As far as I remember from my tours several years ago, no one lied about the demographics or misled me. And I know the lack of minority students has been a sticking point with Admissions for many years; that’s why they do put diverse students in the pamphlets and have enrollment efforts dedicated to POC students. Are the figures ideal right now? No, I agree with you there. But I wouldn’t blame the recruitment ads.

  3. 69.2% white is a little higher than the US population (61% white) and the Virginia population (62% white) [see,%22sort%22:%22asc%22%7D}.

    But I’m pretty sure Mary Washington is more diverse in 2016 than it was 30 or 40 years ago – moving toward where it wants to be, moving toward being more representative.

  4. I really don’t understand the point of this article. It’s like the author is purposely demeaning it’s school without any real justification. Of course UMW wants to also represent its minorities. So they are not left out and so the school builds a more diverse community. It’s not meant to mislead anyone..

  5. Anonymous- I want to make it clear that my story was highly edited without my consent and those statistics are incorrect. They reflect my city but not my high school. I did not see this version of the story until today and none of paragraphs 5-7 are in my own words. You are absolutely correct that they contradict my point, and I have requested that a correction is placed in the next edition. Please feel free to search Osbourn High School and view accurate statistics.

  6. The author (grudgingly) admits (in the last paragraph) that the University is open to diversity and mentions gender neutral housing and a multicultural center but they spent the entire preceding paragraphs blaming the University for a lack of diversity. How do you get diversity except by representing diversity? They’re complaining about the very thing that they should be praising.

    Can you imagine the backlash if in all of their printed materials the University only portrayed white people? What would that say to every other group in our society? You’re not represented. You’re not welcome. You’re not a part of the Mary Washington family.

    One of the subconscious reinforcements of white privilege is representation in media. I take for granted that I can turn on the television and find with relative ease people that look like me involved in stories that reflect my experiences or are rooted in my understanding of society.

    Calling representation ‘minority branding’ is indeed cynical. It would be branding if Mary Washington didn’t have the structures in place to take advantage of an increased diversity within its population. It would be branding if Mary Washington was looking to entice a diverse student body and then leaving them stranded with no attempt at outreach or inclusion. Treating them like they were just numbers on a pie chart.

    Sort of like the author does.

    But it does have those structures. And the author admits that they know it. So what are they actually complaining about?

  7. This article is horribly illinformed. Stats off, contradictions, poor logic.. And check your meaning of diversity, it includes race, gender, sex, economic status, physical ability, mental ability, etc… UMW is a representation of its home state and I am proud to call it myself an Alum.
    In the end, who cares? What’s the point?
    Stop seeing color and the world will be a better place.

  8. Ginny Bixby so was your 15 minutes of fame. Were you hoping for the Citizenship Award for Diversity Leadership Scholarship?

  9. You are right. The problem with diversity at UMW is that it allows for education about other people but not enough interaction with other people. Diversity was originally introduced as a means to allow for cross racial interaction so we can get to know a each other. Unfortunately, the specificity of diversity has been lost and watered down. Ms. Bixby, I come from around the same area near Garfield and I can tell you that as a minority UMW is a shock. I’m 1 and 1 or 1 and 3 of minorities in most of my classes and that comes with its own experience.
    Thank you for acknowledging a reality that I and others experience on a daily basis.
    Yes, the school has a diversity statement and yes the school has programs in place BUT straying away from race based diversity is dangerous because race plays an important role in our society and if universities fail to address those issues they are not properly equipping students to face it.

  10. Further, if the school portrayed the reality they would turn people away early instead of having them leave later. Ms. Bixby correct me if I’m wrong but the purpose of the article is to critique the schools interaction with minority students. The school should spend more time building racial diversity not falsely advertising it. What I mean by false advertisement is that they make it seem as if there’s an equal portion of minorities to white students, when that isn’t the case.

  11. I was 100% a victim of the false diversity advertisement that landed me at UMW. My days were filled with being excluded and the mostly Black cleaning staff would often check on me as they saw no one would speak to me. My roommates were afraid of me arbitrarily so, and my overall experience was hell on earth. I applied for transfer my 2nd day on campus.

  12. As an alumni of color I agree with the this article and I’m very proud of the author for having the courage to write it. While UMW may comply with government standards of having a diverse student body they certainly do not creat a positive environment for students of minority backgrounds. For years administration has seemed out students of color for their ad campaigns to attract more diverse students but have failed in supporting students of color in having a positive college experience. Diversity festivals are nice activities but does nothing to improve the daily experiences and prejudice minority students face while trying to gain their degree.

  13. I completely agree, I do fill in an extreme minority as a black female in this school and frequently isolated unless at the JFMC. Despite the diversity slowly increasing it needs to be at a faster rate. If we want to compete with other Virginia colleges such as GMU, JMU, ODU etc. then we need to remove the stigma of being a University of Mostly White. This is an issue that is hard to understand if you are not a minority in this school and I urge others to reconsider their role and sympathy before pushing their beliefs.

  14. I really struggle with articles like this, as Ellie stated above,stop seeing color and it doesn’t matter. My daughter is white and two of her best friends black and one of her guy friends gay Hispanic. They are now alumni and still the best of friends. And for those that say they feel excluded, maybe you should try reaching out to make friends. Stating you applied for transfer the 2nd day pretty well sums up just how much effort you put into trying to make friends. Good grief people, grow up and quiet being offended by everything in life.

  15. Very odd article, the facts were contradicting and the author claims it is not even her work. If I was the editor I would be ashamed that I let this be published. If the paper is that desperate for stories go ask some students what they would like to hear about or something. Printing off poorly edited, poorly written, and poorly argued works like this is a disgrace to the newspaper at this school. And further more what would you do to fix this? Anyone can argue something is bad but it takes someone with more to think of an actual fix. Would accepting people who did not meet the standards the school has set just because of race or gender make this better? Or would that be a slap in the face saying, “we need to lower our standards for some people”. I believe that UMW has a duty to accept applicants who exemplify what this school is about regardless or race or gender. To lower standards or accept people who cannot compete academically because of race or gender would be just as bad as denying people for the same reasons. I believe we live in a country where anyone can work hard to be what they want. It is not always easy, trust me on that, but not giving up and pushing hard is what this country is about. I would love to see more diversity on this campus I just do not want the school to feel like they should seek out people who are not white cis-gendered. It would be just as unfair to these people if they were skipped over for who they are just as it would be for any other peoples.

    TDLR; Everyone deserves a shot at greatness, but putting some people above others based on superficial things such as race should not be allowed. Also poor article.

  16. Something that hasn’t been touched on a lot in comments or the article is the fact that if the University doesn’t show diversity in advertisements, we won’t get any minority students applying. If we showed all white people on our advertising, URM (Under Represented Minority) population would plummet. By advertising diversity (even if it isn’t statistically accurate) encourages a more diverse student body to apply and hopefully come to the University.

    I can’t speak for the resources on campus because I am white, but it sounds like that’s something that needs to be worked on to encourage students to stay, which is completely different than “false advertising” as the article puts it.

  17. “It should be noted that not only is the student body limited to one predominant race, it is also heavily composed of students who identify as cisgender, heterosexual and able- bodied. In this day and age, diversity is defined by not only ethnicities but by gender, sexuality and physical variance.”

    White cisgendered heterosexual able bodied people is the by far the largest demographic in our country. It would only make sense that this demographic is also the most largest in virtually every college campus, including UMW.

    I don’t get the point of this article. If UMW wants to portray the school as being more diverse than it is, I don’t see the harm. Maybe it will actually help to increase diversity by attracting more minority students.

  18. Bixby is correct to point out that there are far too many self-loathing, naive white students at UMW. It is very disappointing to see a college student lament the amount of white people she sees. It seems as though Bixby would like to transform UMW into a “minority zoo” where she can gawk at blacks, hispanics, homosexuals, and the disabled.
    Viewing people by their race, sex preference, or disability status as their primary atribute is atrocious. This kind of leftist nonsense is the height of “white privlege.” People who are a different ethnicity from you do not exist just so you can marvel at their different skin color. I would invite you instead to judge people as individuals. Maybe you can try getting to know some of your peers instead of making snap judgements of them based on their skin color? I know, it’s a novel concept…

    Final note: If you take the trouble to specify how you “quantitatively” analyzed a school then there shouldn’t be any feigned shock at seeing the ethnic breakdown of UMW.

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