Perpetuating Privilege

by Vielka

I thought this was interesting, especially considering my previous post about going to colleges, even if they are less selective. I find it to be a very interesting dilemma. The highly selective universities are, well, selective. I talked about why in a previous post. The interesting piece of the dilemma is that students of color who could potentially gain admissions to the highly selective universities, are simply not applying. The article also states that the students of color who attend less selective universities are not pursuing graduate degrees, and I believe there is an implication that they are also not pursuing the more competitive careers after they complete their BA or BS.

When I went to college, I knew I would finish college. I wasn’t entirely sure what I would do after. I knew I would go on to teach, maybe law school. But internships, the GRE, LSAT, acquiring letters of recommendations, selecting the right place to go, fellowships, research topics, graduate school or a professional degree, post-doc, pre-doc, research institutes, residency year, normative time, teaching universities, research 1 schools, disciplinary, inter-disciplinary, and intra-disciplinary, committees, advisors, and chairs were all completely foreign to me until I actually had to do all those things. And I went to some really good schools that have great rates of attrition! I often times think that this lack of social capital had a lot to do with my lack of success in what I will now call my first go-around at my doctorate.

Then I think about the movie, “The Social Network” and the book, Steve Jobs, and how both are super interesting to me because they, Mark Zuckberburg and Steve Jobs in this instance, just seemed to know stuff, and know who to talk to, and how to access this and that. Steve Jobs didn’t even graduate from college and he just knew stuff. When he moved back to the Peninsula, he audited courses at Stanford which meant that he knew he could audit classes at Stanford and he knew which ones to audit. Or Mark Zuckerburg. I love my college friends but none of them could have whipped up a website and spread the word to the entire campus in an evening. And I doubt if any of us did that we would have avoided being kicked out of school, but that’s for another day.

Returning to the article specifically, what the article doesn’t mention is that the highly selective high schools and college-access programs that work with students of color including teaching them the social capital required to be successful in the highly selective universities also maintain a sort of quota system. Their reputations are heavily dependent on the students who apply to the school, especially since they are almost giving their word that this student is the best-of-the-best and wants to go to that institution. This means that these schools and programs can not recommend or even support the candidacy of every student or student of color, even if the student is motivated to go to a particular college, and even if that student would likely gain admissions, if the high schools and programs have other students who look even better on paper. I knew a student who really wanted to go to a certain university. I believe his application was compelling and that he would have gotten into the school. But his super competitive high school already had the five students it was prepared to “send” to the university. So the college counselor said that he could not apply, but that she would support him going elsewhere. The student ended up going to a small, public university in the state without many prospects for doing anything beyond his four-year degree, if he even finishes. The worst of it is that the other students of color in the same class as this student, all who attended the same highly selective high school, all attended the same type of school, all with the notion that they could not go elsewhere, as their White classmates. Their high school education, that cost (without financial aid) in the area of $120,000 (the same as my BS, by the way) landed them in a place very similar to where their public school-educated peers attended.

Just to be clear, I am not advocating for students of color to only attend the Harvards of the world. I am really not, but that’s for another day. I am saying that as the college-access conversation changes to getting students to and through, it is just as important to understand that the “through” does not end with a BA. And that what we are really teaching students is how to access whiteness and how to do so without sacrificing their own identity. It’s a tall order but not impossible, and most definitely requires a lot of support from those of us who have done it.

One Response to “Perpetuating Privilege”

November 23, 2014 at 10:16 am, Renee Haugen said:

Vielka, this is not just true for students of color, it is also true for students of lower socio-economic status of all colors. This post is all about ME. I was the first person in our family to graduate from college. Everything, from the applications, to the financial aid, loans, work-study, dorm life, even understanding what the “pre-professional” in my pre-professional zoology major meant. We were being groomed for grad school, and I did not ever really get it. I had no clue what to do with my major and did have profs setting me up and networking with other profs and people in the field but I did not realize what they were doing or why. I ended up in education because that was one thing where I could directly know what the outcome of my graduate degree would be: a teaching job. I did not get the idea of going to grad school and doing research, and more research, and still more to the point that doing the research WAS the point. My practical, blue-collar background kept asking “what am I supposed to do with the next degree?” And the answer wasn’t supposed to be “go back to school, do more research, and get the next degree.” That answer was NOT okay. I did not understand the system and that is why I ended up a teacher. I’m glad I did, but the reason really is because I did not understand the world of high-level academia and it scared the living daylights out of me to jump into that foreign territory. I did pretty well, considering my background, and helped some oft cousins figure it out and get through. I hope it comes second nature to my sons so the world is open to them even more than it was for me. But you have hit it on the head, lack of knowledge and experience in the higher academic system is a roadblock, a way we should be reaching out with help to those students. Mentoring maybe?


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