Read the article, but don't bother with the comments

This article in today's Globe is great. To summarize, it's about a couple of Massachusetts colleges and how they're looking at how well-rounded applicants are, since their mailboxes are full of applicants with perfect grades and perfect scores. There's also an aspect of how they're looking to diversify and get away from having such a homogeneous student body.

What's discouraging are the comments people are leaving. People who say that their white middle-class children are getting shafted, because they think the schools are "favoring" applicants with disadvantaged backgrounds. Wow, some people really don't understand privilege. I think the way to look at it is to ask which student worked harder. If a student from a rough neighborhood and a family involved with drugs and the penal system got similar grades and test scores as a white upper-class suburban student who was provided with tutoring and SAT classes, I think the answer is pretty obvious.

I love the idea that colleges are looking to the students who thought for themselves and worked with little support, rather than those who just rode the wave all the way to the top. This doesn't mean that white upper-class kids have no chance; it means that if the path to straight A's and perfect test scores is already paved for them, then they need to display some creativity and work ethic by having a job or volunteer project that really shows what a unique individual they are. It makes perfect sense to me to waitlist the upper-class student whose volunteer project and hobbies are the same ones her parents are interested in. Someone who has a privileged background but is truly outstanding is going to go against the grain and pursue different hobbies and volunteer projects, and really display as much passion as the less privileged applicants did. This doesn't mean rejecting your family's background and values, but it means taking it in a direction that's clearly one's own.

I've had some of the more privileged teens I work with show me their college (or private high school) essays, and it seems that the trend is to present one's activities as something that "everyone does" or that's "no big deal." Even the essays in the books about how to write essays often have an air of making sure the admissions people know that ballet and volunteering to serve tea at the ladies' luncheon are something that one's family has done for centuries, you know, so the admissions people know that the applicant is from a very important and very cultured family. This seems a bit backwards to me. I'd place a lot more value on an essay where the student demonstrates maturity and individuality by talking about how they served tea at the luncheon out of their honor for their parents' community ties but also took on a project that was more personally meaningful and more needed.

There is actually a comment on the article where someone refers to privileged students "whose place at an elite college was taken by a minority." Seriously? Where does this person get the idea that these were "their" spots? Did the spots have someone's name on them? I'm guessing that people with this sort of view really aren't encouraging their kids to work hard and carve their own niche, because clearly this person's kids already have a place with their name on it.

It's also interesting that the article doesn't mention affirmative action, and there are no claims that the admissions practices are affirmative action practices, yet the commenters are quick to blame affirmative action. Do they not understand the idea of a private college? As long as the college isn't doing anything that legally qualifies as discrimination, they're free to admit whoever the hell they want. The colleges are allowed to choose which students will be a good fit for what they want their college to look like. They're not even systematically denying admission to ├╝ber-high acheivers; they mention the couple thousand students who are "shoo-ins" because of amazing grades and test scores, and don't even warrant scrutiny from the admissions committee.

But apparently the commenters on the website think that all of the spots should be based on test scores and grades. I'm guessing this is because that's all their kids have going for them. People with a lot of privilege don't like being told that they might need to work a bit harder to make sure they get what they want, instead of just expecting it. I'm going to hope though that it's a loud, um, minority of people who felt the need to minority-bash on the website, and that most of the readers from multi-generation-elite-college-attending families saw what I saw in the article -- a glimmer of hope that elite institutions are trying to broaden the concept of what elite means, and maybe even the realization of what it's like to be less privileged and have to really go out of one's way and work to get something instead of just knowing it's promised to you.

1 comment:

MoonRaven said...

Reading the comments left on Globe articles almost always upsets me. People seem to have to grind their axe and use the comments section as a way to let the world know what *they* think. Unfortunately, as you noticed, many of them don't get it.

Privilege is invisible for these folks for the same reasons that I doubt fish notice water and people seldom have long conversations about air (unless it's seriously polluted). They can't see their own privilege--unless they're paying attention--the way that those outside of it can.

You are on target with your comments, but I doubt that any of the people who left the comments on the Globe site would get it.

Thanks for posting this.