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Toward Inclusive Excellence in Graduate Education: Constructing Merit and Diversity in PhD Admissions

Julie R. Posselt
American Journal of Education
Vol. 120, No. 4, Racial Diversity in Graduate Education (August 2014), pp. 481-514
DOI: 10.1086/676910
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/676910
Page Count: 34
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Toward Inclusive Excellence in Graduate Education: Constructing Merit and Diversity in PhD Admissions
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Abstract

Professors play an underexamined role as gatekeepers, and their understandings of merit have significant implications for racial equity and diversity in graduate education and the professoriate. To understand faculty reliance upon admissions criteria that undermine espoused diversity goals, this study examined decision making in 10 highly selective doctoral programs, including the meanings faculty associate with common admissions criteria. Through 86 interviews and 22 hours of admissions committee observations, findings reveal that conceptions of merit changed throughout the review process. Privileging diversity among those who made the short list marginally affected outcomes because the initial standard—a very high quantitative bar of conventional achievement—excluded many students of color. Implications for reframing merit and reforming graduate admissions are discussed.

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