by KENDRA JAMES on APRIL 10, 2013
To (All) the White Girls Who Didn’t Get Into the College of Their Dreams,
I’m not gonna lie. When I applied to Brown University back in 2005, I was positive that I was getting in. I didn’t care what my college counselor was telling me. “Reach” my ass.
I was a legacy. An African-American legacy. An African-American legacy applying from a New England boarding school where I was also a legacy. My academic record wasn’t perfect, but I arrogantly told myself that “not perfect” at boarding school basically equated to public-school excellence. I had fantastic SAT scores, and I had great extracurriculars. In addition to varsity sports and stage crew, I was a Black competitive figure skater!
As far as I was concerned at the naive age of 17, I was a freakin’ unicorn.
As far as Brown was concerned, I wasn’t even worth the wait list.
I ended up choosing between Pitzer and Oberlin and, like many other Brown University rejects, I chose Oberlin. And that was that. Brown didn’t want me, but I’d done all that I could, and I just had to accept that.
On the flip side, I remember hearing about a girl from my first high school who also graduated in my year (’06). She didn’t get into the Ivy League school of her choice but, instead of going to one of the other schools that accepted her, she walked around high school collecting signatures on a petition to prove to the college that their admissions department had made a mistake and that she deserved to be there. To be fair, it worked; the college let her in after receiving her petition. But I remember rolling my eyes and saying something about that being some “white people’s foolishness,” to my friends, because who does that?
Over the past few months the answer has become clear: White girls do that.
And it’s moved beyond petitions. Y’all are in the Supreme Court now. I’m looking at you, Abigail Fischer, claiming that Affirmative Action and the need to meet federal quotas took your rightful spot at the University of Texas. Never mind the fact that you had an average GPA of 3.59, below average SAT scores of 1180, and weren’t in the top 10 percentile of your class. There’s nothing wrong with any of those numbers I just mentioned– plenty of people with those scores and grades are going to go onto college and very successful futures. They just may not be going to the University of Texas.
And then there’s Suzy Lee Weiss who claims a 4.5 GPA, a 2120 SAT score, and spot as a US Senate Page. She got into college, but not into any of the Ivy League schools that had been her first choices. Her Wall Street Journal editorial, “To (All) the Colleges That Rejected Me,” claims that colleges lied to her because just being herself wasn’t enough.
“Colleges tell you, ‘Just be yourself.’ That is great advice, as long as yourself has nine extracurriculars, six leadership positions, three varsity sports, killer SAT scores and two moms … had I known two years ago what I know now, I would have gladly worn a headdress to school. Show me to any closet, and I would’ve happily come out of it. “Diversity!” I offer about as much diversity as a saltine cracker. If it were up to me, I would’ve been any of the diversities: Navajo, Pacific Islander, anything. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, I salute you and your 1/32 Cherokee heritage.”
Apparently brown babies are receiving their Ivy League acceptances stapled to birth certificates in the delivery rooms nowadays. You sign up for a lifetime of other systemic issues (Racism? Discrimination? No big), but hey, at least you’re going to Harvard. Maybe, but it helps if you’re lucky enough to land in a decent public school where your race is non-factor when it comes to the quality of your education, and even in a diverse, wealthy suburb with good public schools that’s not a guarantee. I’m guessing Suzy didn’t think about that. Headdress jokes aside, Suzy probably also doesn’t realize that, in the fall of 2011, only 0.4% of undergrad students attending Title IV schools (which include the Ivy League) were Native American. Suzy’s apparently limited understanding of the college admissions process leads me to believe that a full explanation of the circumstances and historic treatment of America’s indigenous people that’ve lead to this staggeringly low number would go over her head.
Suzy’s desire for a “Tiger mom” so that she could be one of, “those kids who by age 14 got their doctorate, cured a disease, or discovered a guilt-free brownie recipe” is equally laughable once you wrap your head around her belief of the stereotype. First of all, I don’t think someone who whines as much as Suzy could’ve handled growing up under my parents, much less the full Amy Chua parenting doctrine. A child of color often has to live under a completely different set of rules than their white counterparts. We work twice as hard to go half as far and still have to deal with a persistent academic achievement gap. The helicopter-parent approach isn’t used to produce 60 Minutes-worthy results; it’s just what’s necessary to survive public school (and life) in America as a child of color.
In an ill-advised appearance on The Today Show, Suzy argues that the necessity of diversity means that colleges are judging applicants using factors (read: race) that the applicants have no control over. “Anyone can relate to this,” she says.
Actually, Suzy, no, they can’t. I mean, we could start with fact that most of us don’t have the luxury of being able to cry over our failings publicly in a nationally published papers where our sisters just so happened to work once upon a time. Plus, in singling out diversity as your issue, you’re eliminating half the college applying population from your debate. By your logic, if a white girl with your background doesn’t get into an Ivy League college, it’s because there weren’t enough spots for white students that year. But, if a non-white girl with an identical profile is rejected, who do they blame? No one. They don’t have the excuse; they simply weren’t good enough. We don’t get to make ourselves feel better by engaging in a smear campaign against the fictional Cherokee girl that took our Ivy League slot.
We’re not privileged enough to get to use a convenient excuse to shift the blame, and using it only makes all of you look like you’re grasping at straws. Let’s consider The Today Show’s example: Princeton received 26,000 applications last year and accepted just 7% of those. That’s around 1820 students. This is a good time for everyone to sit back for a minute and remember that college admissions are, in essence, a competition, and rejection is part of that process. I’m not saying it’s always a fair competition (that’s another post entirely)–even for you white girls–but that doesn’t make this any less true. The majority of applicants to Ivy League schools have GPAs of 4.0 or higher, a veritable scroll of extracurriculars, and stellar SAT scores. Admissions officers expect that. It’s what a student can put on top of that that makes them stand out from the pile.
Take a moment to look at it from an admissions officer’s point of view. Do they always want that kid with the 4.5 GPA? Should they? How many applicants leave them with a poor impression during their interviews, despite that 4.0+ GPA, high IQ scores, and three-pages worth of charity work? It’s all well and good to be smartest person in your class, but why would anyone want to admit a student who comes off as entitled, smarmy, ignorant, and racist? Suzy, you might want to ask yourself how you presented yourself in your interviews and applications, because if I were admissions officer reading your WSJ “satire” and I’d rejected you? I wouldn’t be regretting my decision.
There’s an arrogance in high school students that manifests during the college-application process, but it’s an arrogance that correlates with already existing racial and class privilege. Coming from my school environment, with my background, I expected to get into an Ivy League college –a “name-brand school.” I kind of understand where Suzy’s coming from (though I’m guessing that when you add a dash of white privilege on top of that, the unfamiliar feeling of rejection and not getting your way is multiplied to extremes that I can’t possibly fathom). She’s young–you’re all young–and disappointment is hard at that age. It’s hard to understand that despite working hard for four years, you may not get into your first choice of school. It’s easy to look for someone to blame, and it’s easier still to want to place that blame on groups of people who can so easily be scapegoats for your problems…and historically always have.
To paraphrase Mad Men: “Not every little girl gets to do what they want. The world could not support that many ballerinas…or Ivy League graduates.” My advice to Suzy, Abigail, and every other white girl who didn’t get into their first choice of college this year is to keep your rejection out of the public eye and do what every other kid does when they go off to school in the Fall: give it the ol’ college try. Seriously, make the most of the environment around you, and if you really don’t like it? Again, keep the Wall Street Journal out of it; have an amazing first year, and apply for transfer. And do it while understanding that the group of Black, Native, and Asian, and Latina first-year students hanging out on a Harvard quad had nothing to do with you not getting in in the first place.
That was your own comparative mediocrity.
Kendra James (My Third Choice College, ’10)