“They said I only got in because I ‘checked the black box’ ”

Apr 4, 2019 by

Five ways to join the fight for higher-education equity and help all students feel that they belong

“Dream big, work hard and you can do anything.” This is what students often hear about what it takes to get into college and pursue their dreams.

If the recent alleged admissions scandal proves anything, though, it’s that this isn’t always true, especially if you are a student of color, a first-generation college student or someone from a low-income community.

As a first-generation college graduate, I have experienced the myth of the American meritocracy. True story: I got into my dream school, New York University, and was ecstatic. I flew from Chicago to LaGuardia Airport all set to start school, and immediately turned around when I realized I didn’t have enough money to get from the airport to campus. In my mind, if I couldn’t afford the ride, I would not be able to afford the tuition and the books and food. This was the sign that NYU was not for me … it must be for someone else, someone smarter, someone more prepared, someone richer and whiter.

I felt the psychological toll of impostor syndrome. When I enrolled in college, I questioned if I deserved to be there. I had started high school in a truancy program where the police would occasionally pick me up at my house to drive me to school and lecture me about how I was on the road to nowhere. A teacher in high school told me I was not smart enough to be in his class. Many people implied that I wasn’t really qualified to attend NYU. They said I only got in because I “checked the black box.” All of these experiences sent signals to me that I didn’t belong. They only confirmed what I had already been directly and indirectly told: “You should just be proud that you finished high school.”

Even after overcoming my initial disappointment at not enrolling in NYU, I summoned the courage to enroll in another college; however, one semester later, I had to pack my bags and leave campus. I put in the work. I earned a 4.0 grade-point average. But because I did not have a wealthy parent to clear the financial hold on my account, I was told it was time to leave.

So while this latest revelation of celebrities allegedly buying their children’s ways into various colleges is disappointing on many fronts, it’s certainly not shocking. Growing up as a black woman outside of Chicago, I was told I’d have to “work twice as hard to get half as much.” Potential and talent may be equally distributed, but access and opportunity definitely are not.

Source: College access and 5 ways to achieve social justice

Source: College access and 5 ways to achieve social justice

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