Recent US Supreme court rulings and criminal investigations have resulted in intense discussions about the college admissions process, fomenting public debates about whether characteristics of students and their families—such as wealth and legacy status—should be used to gain access to elite universities. At the same time, there is growing recognition that students from diverse backgrounds bring valuable experiences that enrich the educational enterprise.

Yet these discussions have focused more on students and families, and less on the gatekeepers--like, faculty administrators, and admissions committees-- and policies that grant or restrict access to higher education opportunities ranging from undergraduate admission to tenure-track faculty jobs.

For this Spark series, we aim to publish four to five essays by diversity scholars whose scholarship speaks to the extent to which assumptions and biases, selection criteria, or policies and procedures affect access to educational, advancement, and employment opportunities in higher education. That is, who and what serve as the keepers of the gates in higher ed?

Please submit your pitch by March 1, 2020. Priority selection will be given to members of the Diversity Scholars Network, who will receive a modest payment for their work. Non-DSN members will be invited to join the network. See eligibility criteria here. We welcome you to review our writing guidelines before submitting.

Example questions to consider include, but are not limited to: 

  • Is there evidence that admissions practices and policies favor admission to some students while hindering access to others? How do these practices and policies influence access at various stages of the educational experience, including undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral, or faculty stages?
  • The recent “Operation Varsity Blues College Admissions Scandal” revealed that some white, high-income parents have helped their children gain admission to elite universities by lying about their extra-curricular activities and bribing university officials. What theories or research can be applied to this scandal to understand this phenomenon? How do these affect the self-concept or performance of students or faculty who have been accused of “stealing a place” because of affirmative action or diversity initiatives?
  • US Supreme Court cases challenging the use of race in college admissions have involved heated discussions and disagreements around “merit” and “fairness.” How have definitions of “merit” changed over time, and how do these definitions inform policies and legal decisions on higher educational and employment access? 
  • An increasing number of colleges and universities are eliminating standardized testing as a requirement for admission to undergraduate and graduate programs. What are the early results of such practices? What other admissions requirements seem to limit or broaden participation in higher education? Will simply changing admissions criteria broaden participation in higher education? What else needs to happen to result in equitable access?
  • How does research and theory on intersectionality, stereotype threat, impostor syndrome, identity development, or other concepts inform research and practice on gatekeeping? 
  • Julie Posselt’s work has suggested that training of individuals who serve on admissions committees is also needed. Drawing from higher education and other settings, what types of training may be most beneficial to support faculty and staff leaders in more equitable practices?
  • Gatekeeping occurs not only during undergraduate and graduate student admissions stage, but also during tenure-track/tenured faculty selection, promotion, and retention. What societal, organizational, interpersonal, or individual factors contribute to gatekeeping at these stages?

Note that authors of accepted essays will be asked to contribute to an additional Q&A to discuss strategies, policies, and procedures that can mitigate inequitable gatekeeping behaviors in higher education.


This series will be curated by Annmarie Caño, associate provost for faculty development & faculty success and professor of psychology at Wayne State University.