At a recent SLECoP watch party of the Netflix documentary Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal we relived the drama of the 2019 scandal that saw wealthy parents working with college admissions coach, Rick Singer, to cheat and buy their children’s way into elite universities. We had a lively chat filled with outrage at “Aunt Becky” and the admissions coach with a “bad monk haircut.” We gasped and booed at other folks with homes the size of hotels scheming to the tune of millions of dollars to get their children into elite schools. But in the midst of our popcorn-fueled outrage, one important point that came up was that while a spotlight on what was truly a heinous and illegal scheme (though few of the people involved faced any real consequences) made us angry, it overlooked many of the real “scandals” around college admissions that are legal and much less dramatic, though certainly racist and classist. In short, being wealthy and white is rewarded in ways that are completely legal, though insidious in college admissions and persistence.
Admissions policies and practices:
- Legacy admissions, which privilege those whose families have intergenerational wealth
(Washington Post article https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2021/03/21/elite-colleges-still-give-wealth-connected-students-a-legacy-admissions-edge/ )
- Prohibiting affirmative action, which leads to a decrease in the attendance of racially minoritized students (https://www.insidehighered.com/admissions/article/2020/04/13/study-finds-public-universities-lose-minority-students-when-they-ban)
- Reliance on standardized testing, which privileges white, middle-and upper-class students in terms of design, content, and access to testing preparation
- Recruitment at well-funded, high performing schools (https://www.insidehighered.com/admissions/article/2019/04/01/study-finds-public-universities-focus-out-state-recruitment-high)
- Privileging those who can navigate admissions processes and contextual norms of higher education.
We see this play out in particular ways in STEM disciplines because of the racist history and current culture of STEM:
- The history of STEM disciplines favors dominant (and in particular white) researchers and conceptualizations of STEM (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/science-needs-to-face-up-to-its-racist-history/)
- Many Black and Brown students have limited access to high quality STEM in their schools (https://www.forbes.com/sites/taliamilgromelcott/2020/09/24/students-of-color-are-missing-out-on-stem-opportunities-so-the-planet-is-missing-out-on-their-brilliance-heres-how-we-finally-achieve-equity-in-high-school-stem/?sh=4318d5751485)
- STEM departments in higher education push students of Color to assimilate and foster racist practices (Dr. Ebony O. McGee’s work analyzes this in depth: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.3102/0013189X20972718)
The STEM PUSH Network is working to push back against many of these processes by:
- Supporting precollege STEM programs in developing culturally sustaining curricula and practices that support Black and Brown youth in seeing the importance of their lives and cultural understandings in STEM
- Collaborating to support students in navigating the current structures of higher education
- Working with higher education admissions to reimagine and dismantle inequitable admissions policies and practices.