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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

More than ever, college applicants are writing about race

Photo: Lucxama Sylvain/Pexels

Writing about race is more popular than ever for black, Hispanic and indigenous college applicants, writes Bernard Mokam in the New York Times.

Admissions officers aren't supposed to know applicants' racial or ethnic identity, since the U.S. Supreme Court banned affirmative action, he writes. However, the majority opinion said students could write about how race affected their lives “through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.” Counselors are urging them to do so.

Deshayne Curley wanted to leave his Indigenous background out of his essay. But he reworked it to focus on an heirloom necklace that reminded him of his home on the Navajo Reservation.  
The first draft of Jyel Hollingsworth’s essay explored her love for chess. The final focused on the prejudice between her Korean and Black American families and the financial hardships she overcame.  

If I were evaluating essays, I think I'd rather read about chess, but that's now how it works, wrote Aya M. Waller-Bey in The Atlantic. For years, marginalized students have been expected to write about trauma and adversity to get into selective colleges.

Waller-Bey worked in admissions at a selective private college, and went on to research the admissions process for a doctorate. Research shows that "wealthier and white students tend to write about sports injuries, mission trips to the global South, and the plight of other marginalized groups they served in their various community-service activities," she writes. "Students from lower-income backgrounds, especially those mentored by college-preparatory nonprofits, write about their trauma."

Joe Latimer, the director of college counseling at Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts, told Mokam that students don't need “to sell their trauma.” He urges students "to present their identities as 'strength based,' showing the positive traits they have built from their experiences as a person of color."

I wonder how many middle-class white students are fabricating an unverifiable family problem, a fashionable disability -- or perhaps gender dysphoria. How good are admissions staffers at spotting the phonies?

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