Evangelicals at Dartmouth

William F. Buckley Jr.'s famous "God & Men at Yale."

William F. Buckley Jr.’s famous book “God & Men at Yale.”

When William F. Buckley Jr. wrote his perennial treatise on religion at Yale, God and Man at Yale, he identified a trend of anti-religiousness in academia. At the time, he was most concerned not by anti-religious professors who were willing to bias the material they taught, but by religious professors who did their best to maintain objectivity. This ultimately plays a negative role in the free exchange of ideas by placing different ideas on different playing fields. The trend identified by Buckley continues even today, as there is significant evidence of religious discrimination in admissions at the College. While the administration spends nearly infinite amounts of time bragging about each percentage point of First-Generation College Students, or the male-female ratio, or the diversity represented by the various racial or ethnic groups present at Dartmouth, religion and religious diversity are topics wholly ignored. A case of particular interest is evangelicals; despite being one of the largest group of Christians in America, they are perhaps one of the most underrepresented groups at Dartmouth.

America as a whole is a very religious nation; according to Pew Research, a little more than 75% of Americans are religious. About 70% of Americans are Christian. To many Americans, this religious identification is one of the most important parts of their identity. Religious affiliation is correlated with everything from homosexual behavior to voting patterns. A full one in four Americans identify as Evangelical Christians. Other religions, such as Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, represent a mere 5.9% of the US population.

Because of the administration’s penchant for avoiding actual numbers about religion at the College, The Dartmouth Review performed a study by distributing 97 surveys to Dartmouth students in the Class of 1953 Commons while they ate dinner on a Thursday night. Admittedly, this survey did not collect information on a perfectly representative sample of Dartmouth students; about 60% of respondents were male, and 40% were part of the new class of 2020. While the survey was by no means perfect, the figures were striking and perhaps the best available source of information on the religious make-up of Dartmouth. While Dartmouth is indeed heavily Christian – 54% of Dartmouth students identify as such – Evangelicals are almost entirely missing from the school. Only one student out of 97 respondents identified as Evangelical. Evangelicals are under-represented by 25-fold. To put this in perspective, if African-American students were similarly under-represented, there would be only twelve black students at Dartmouth College. The bulk of the missing evangelicals were replaced by a mixture of faiths other than Christianity, particularly Jews and Hindus. Altogether, religious students of non-Christian faith made up 21% of the student body, compared to 5.9% of America.

There are a variety of possible explanations as to why Evangelicals are so under-represented at Dartmouth College. Chiefly, Dartmouth could discriminate based upon characteristics that are correlated with certain faiths, like Evangelical Christianity, but not directly discriminate against Evangelicals. Some examples might be: geographic location, homeschooling, education, rural vs. urban divide, political affiliation, or insider vs. outsider tendencies. Dartmouth may also simply not provide sufficient outreach to evangelical high-school students.

Evangelicals tend to be geographically clustered in certain regions of the country. Namely, according to Pew Research, Evangelicals make up 34% of Southerners, 24% of Midwesterners, 22% of Westerners, 13% of people from the North East, and only a negligible percentage of people from outside the United States. However, the College maintains that it seeks geographic diversity. Only 26% of students in the class of 2020 come from New England or overseas, suggesting that at least a quarter of the remainder ought to be Evangelical. Unfortunately, Dartmouth College presents no information as to the distribution of students from rural or urban environments, so it is impossible to judge with great certainty how much of a role this might play in the lack of Evangelicals at Dartmouth. It is also possible that since people on the coasts of greater wealth and “privilege” tend not to be Evangelicals, admissions policies favor these groups over the Middle American Evangelical. Evidence for this theory is sparse and often contradictory, however, as many people living on the coasts are indeed Evangelicals.

Groups whose parents went to college are more likely to go to college themselves. Could Evangelicals’ lack of education be an explanation for their absence at the College? That is less likely. According to a comprehensive study of religion in America by professors Barry Kosmin and Ariela Keysar of Trinity College, Evangelicals are far more likely to have graduated from college than most other religious groups. In their study, the Trinity College professors found that 49% of Evangelicals had a college degree, whereas only 33% of Americans in general had done the same. Jews, Hindus, and a few main-line Protestant churches were the only religious groups with a higher degree of educational attainment than Evangelicals. If education is taken into account, more than the national average of Evangelicals should be present at Dartmouth.

Another possible source of under-representation of Evangelicals at Dartmouth is the challenge that homeschooling presents to college admissions officers. While standardized test scores do make it easier to see if homeschooled students are up to snuff in their education generally, it is still difficult to understand students if there is no school context to place them into. For admissions officers who eschew such narrow educational measures as the SAT or ACT, homeschoolers who can offer little else are a difficult sell. According to the Department of Education, homeschoolers make up about 3.4% of students in America, though only a few of these students are homeschooled K-12, and for their full educational curriculum. Most are only homeschooled for a portion of their years spent studying and/or take a few classes at traditional schools. According to the Dartmouth Admissions website, “There is no separate form or special application for home school students. Standardized test scores can demonstrate proficiency. We ask your home school supervisor to submit additional information on curriculum, grading scale, and evaluation. Dartmouth receives many applications from home school students, and our holistic review process means we consider each applicant within the context of their educational environment, community, and opportunities.” If homeschooled students are indeed still under-represented at Dartmouth despite this policy, then the College ought to expand its outreach to homeschooled students. However, it appears that Dartmouth is fully aware of the difficulties of evaluating homeschoolers’ educational performance and readiness, and that Dartmouth already does its best to alleviate those difficulties. Homeschoolers’ tendency towards being Evangelical does not appear to be a significant cause of under-representation at Dartmouth.

Evangelicals tend to be very conservative. Just after the November election, the Washington Post cited exit polls suggesting that about 80% of white Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. It appears that most of this came on the back of Anti-Clinton fervor and Trump’s promise to appoint conservative Supreme Court justices that would overturn Roe v. Wade. It is possible that since such a disproportionate percentage of Evangelicals tend to vote Republican, if the admissions office indeed discriminates against conservatives, they might skew Dartmouth admissions against Evangelicals. However, there are two main points to consider. First, even if the College successfully screened out the 80% of Evangelicals that claimed to have voted for President Trump, this still would not explain the lack of Evangelicals at Dartmouth. Evangelicals are under-represented by about 96%. The College would have to cut those 80% of Evangelicals, and then another 80% of those remaining in order to successfully reduce the number of Evangelicals at Dartmouth to its current level. Second, while the administration’s discrimination against conservatives on campus often becomes apparent, as in the Blue Lives Matter Controversy from last spring, the administration has denied discrimination against conservatives, or for that matter people of any religion.

As Occam the Franciscan Friar observed half a millennium ago, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. This principle is especially true when other explanations have no evidence, and more commonly have evidence against being the explanation. It is possible that the administration does not discriminate against Evangelicals. It is possible that because of other trends in admissions, or due to errors in the survey’s methods, that Evangelicals are not in fact discriminated against in admissions and are merely the victims of other policies and trends largely outside of the control of the administration generally and Admissions office specifically. It is possible that Dartmouth does not hate Evangelicals. It is possible, but unlikely.                                                                      

  • keithmh113

    Is it possible Evangelicals (and those who are reformed like me) have accepted the opinion that they are unwelcome and don’t bother applying. Let’s face it, true or not any time the words Ivy League and Christian are in the same sentence the most likely verbs are sue or challenge.

    The Christian college I went to back in the 80s is still ranked as one of the top schools in the country, and I knew I was not going to be mocked every time I opened my mouth. My teachers did not consider my faith an obstacle, but the foundation.