The “Right Type” of Student

As an extension to the debate around affirmative action and one of my latest posts, a key issue to address is how college admissions choose their minority students. Studies show that some admissions officers cherry pick how diversity is represented in their post-secondary institution. The main conclusion drawn is that admissions officers are more responsive and favor persons of color who are “deracialized and racially apolitical than they are to those who evince a commitment to antiracism and racial justice,” especially in favor of individuals interested in STEM.

While some would argue that favoring STEM is not a practice that is specific to students of color, that does not excuse admissions officers from dictating who is the right type of minority student.

“STEM brings greater contribution to our economy and civil progress”

Above is a classic piece of propaganda that circulates around our education system. Neoliberalism has contributed to the narrative that students are working machines whose value is based on their productivity and profitability. Additionally, status quo fears of China and the threat of the decline of American hegemony has pushed STEM innovations to the forefront of what is considered as “productive”. What these narratives ignore, however, is the question, “who can access STEM?”

High Cost

To be considered as “good” at STEM by selective institutions requires winning scientific competitions, adequate training and preparation, money and time spent on research, summer camps costing thousands of dollars, etc. Additionally, the stereotype that black and brown students are not as good at STEM deters these students from participating in STEM activities. Thus, various factors contribute to STEM being a rather exclusive, even privileged, activity. When African-American and Latinx students are disproportionately from low-income families, they might not have the resources to out-compete their peers in gaining recognition from admissions officers.

Different Priorities

The ability to participate in STEM activities comes with a certain privilege. It often means that a student does not have to be concerned about their housing and living conditions, political and civil rights, etc, and can instead focus their time on other topics. Think about this: would someone who is faced with the daily threat of deportation rather focus on advocating for immigrant rights, or read a computer science instruction book?

Basic human and civil rights are a prerequisite to enjoying the luxuries of scientific and technological innovation. When oppressed peoples (minority students being one of them) do face these challenges on a daily basis, especially for black and brown folk, advocating for racial justice becomes a priority. Thus, activism is just as–if not more–important as STEM and other extracurricular activities. Just because there are no winning titles or elite competitions, does not mean that students are less passionate or less hard working.

College admission officers’ gravitation toward black students who are apolitical is a subtle form of discrimination that continues to allow the white elite to shape the “desirable” minority, and can even reflect a subconscious opposition toward racial justice.

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