educational institutions’ institutionalised exclusion

Those of you who follow Humans of New York​ are familiar with the Mott Hall Bridges Academy story (Vidal, his principal Ms Lopez and the Harvard visit). They went on the Harvard visit recently and the dean asked the scholars to “Please consider Harvard” because the school needs to expand outside its comfort zone (ie. rich white men). Then a HONY reader made a comment that captured the inequity/injustice of the US higher education system so concisely that I thought I’d share it here:

I like the sentiment, but question the reality. With their low acceptance rate, one has to not only be tops of the class, but also rich in extra curriculars and the like. I applied for the medical school this year and didn’t get anywhere near an interview; some of this is likely due to a less-than-robust EC list. When you’re middle class or below, though, investing extra time (and sometimes money) in charity trips, school organizations, student gov’t, etc. can be hard when you have little siblings that need after-school care, when you have a parent who can’t drive you to and from activities, when you don’t have the money to join, when you have to work your own job to help ends meet. Taking the SAT or MCAT or LSAT three or four times to get the best scores is not feasible for a struggling family (I paid 300 dollars for the MCAT, which, blissfully, I scored in the top 5% of the first time around; I could not have afforded a second attempt). Test-prep classes are upwards of 2000 dollars, so those with the financial resources already have a leg up on test practice and training vs. those who cannot. These kids may be able to beat the odds and get a great SAT score for undergrad admissions, but it will be hard to beef up the rest of the application compared to a rich kid who has all the resources in the world. Still, I like the idea of them taking time to talk to the Scholars and to wear their colors and make them feel welcome. I hope that it motivates them to try for something like Harvard but not to feel so bad if they can’t get in; it’s harder to sell their brand of hard work to an admissions committee used to more flashy ECs and prestigious names. College is a reality for them, and if Harvard can’t see their potential, some college will, so aim for ALL the stars, and be the best you can be where you DO end up! (P.S. Harvard Med: I’m gonna be a badass doctor. Sorry you missed out. )

The concept of meritocracy is so appealing. The recent death of Lee Kwan Yew, founding father of Singapore, has introduced the idea back into public discourse, it seems. But does it exist? Even in Singapore?


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