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grace theory: why are there more students named grace than black students at Cal Poly?

As someone who came to Cal Poly from a very diverse area (and didn’t factor in student diversity before accepting), the first thing I noticed here was the insurmountably lopsided racial demographics of campus, and the severe lack of black representation in the student body. With an astoundingly low 23 black students in the newest crop of graduating Cal Poly students, it’s not a problem that Cal Poly has been able to fundamentally overcome.

I think one of the most identifiable aspects of this is the overwhelming amount of repeated, caucasian names that pervade our campus. And of all the names, one has reigned supreme during my time at Cal Poly: Grace.

Demographics aside, I have been dying to know why there are so many people named Grace at this school. Like I know 6 Graces in SLO; I talked to friends who knew 14. I wasn’t sure if it was only in my head at first, a stroke of chance, but after extensive research on the subject, I can say with certainty that San Luis Obispo has a Grace epidemic.

I went through Cal Poly’s student directory to try to find a good approximation as to how many there are. According to the school, there are about 285 Graces on campus. Mind you, the highest number I found for the black student population at Cal Poly is 178. Sheeeeeesh. 

It’s a damning indictment, but one the city of SLO has not aided in recent years with their militant responses to BLM protests in 2020 and heavily publicized attempts to arrest and charge protest organizer Tiana Arata in the months following.

Here are some other statistics about just how many Graces are in our vicinity.

  • Elizabeth and Emma are the two primarily-female names that appear in similar magnitude, although are 300% and 25% more common respectively amongst the general population.
  • The odds of running into someone named Grace at Cal Poly is about 1.3%, compared to .08% in the rest of the US. That is an uptick of 1700%, or 17 times the frequency of Graces. Woah.
  • Far and away Business majors have the most graces, with 34 in total. The next highest was Animal Science with 18.
  • There is an average of 4.35 Graces per major at Cal Poly.

So why are there so many Graces?

This was my question. Do I have a definitive answer? Kind of. You can effectively break down the influx of Graces into a series of socioeconomic, regional, and even cultural factors. This is my best effort to trace the roots of SLO’s Grace epidemic.

Case 1 – California Girls

  • There are 35,000 people in California with the name Grace, the most of any state.
    • It is in the 99.8th percentile for names in Caliornia.
    • Cal Poly is a regional school, and would thus attract a larger proportion of Graces than most schools.

Therefore the reason there are so many Graces is because

  • there’s just a lot of Graces in California.

This makes some sense but it wouldn’t really explain the 17x uptick, since Grace is pretty much just as popular everywhere else in the US.

Case 2 – Rich “People”

  • Grace is used in much higher proportions by White and Asian demographics.
    • These are the two wealthiest demographics in California
    • Cal Poly has the highest median parent wealth of any non-elite public school.
      • White and Asian students make up about 70% of the student population

Therefore the reason there are so many Graces is because:

  • there are a lot of wealthy people who like to name their children Grace.

I think were almost there, and it would at least partially explain the Grace quantity. However, I wanted to know why so many wealthy white people took to the name Grace, especially around the years 1998 to 2004.

Luckily, there is an answer, and it’s the popularity of the sitcom Will & Grace.

Case 3 – Will & Grace

  • The tv show Will & Grace had enough cultural influence to boost the frequency of the name Grace.
    • Between the years 2001 and 2005, Will & Grace was the highest-rated tv show on the air for people aged 18-49.
    • The show appealed to a primarily white audience.
    • Grace was 69th most frequent name in 1997, shot up to 13th by 2004.
      • Will & Grace went on air in 1998.

The reason there are so many Graces is because:

  • the TV show Will & Grace made the name Grace significantly more popular, especially amongst white Gen-Xers.

I think it’s probably impossible to say for sure why there are so many Graces here. Maybe it’s just some irregularity in the universe that defies all explanation, or maybe it’s because America caught Will & Grace fever. Will Cal Poly always be a haven to Graces all around the US? Or is it representative of a moment in time where Graces reigned supreme? All I know is that it’s disgusting and honestly inexcusable that there are more Graces than black students here. I honestly can’t think of anything more Cal Poly than that. The joke writes itself.

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