Yessenia Gutierrez | Affirmative action applicant

Yessi Can | A Latina’s perspective on why race matters in the admissions process

· December 3, 2012, 12:46 am

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Yessenia Gutierrez
Yessi Can

Even though Penn tries to elaborate on what it looks for in prospective students, few of us know exactly why we were accepted.

One thing is clear: Penn uses affirmative action when deciding who to admit.

Some argue that the policy confers an unfair advantage to minority students in its effort to correct for systemic racial inequalities, when it should be focusing on socioeconomic status.

College sophomore and Admissions and Recruitment Chair for the United Minorities Council Reginald Stewart says this argument “doesn’t hold much weight” since admissions uses a holistic approach.

After filing the Common Application three years ago, I don’t believe that anyone could think the Admissions Office doesn’t take into account extenuating circumstances when reviewing applications.

The Common Application is designed to derive information about an applicant’s background. Yes, it has questions about race and ethnicity, but it also asks about the educational attainments of the applicant’s parents, legal guardians and siblings, their religious preference, their family structure and their work experience. There is also a required essay which “college admissions counselors use … to give a holistic view of the applicant,” as fellow columnist, Engineering and Wharton sophomore Max Scheiber, wrote earlier this year.

Although we agree on this point, I disagree with Scheiber’s implication that being brown or black could be considered “the right skin color,” even in admissions.

College freshman Diana Cabrera, the Latino Coalition Chair of Admissions and Recruitment, adds that “it would be unreasonable to say Penn is admitting students just because they are black or Latino or another minority.”

Penn understands that potential problem and already employs a holistic approach. “[Penn] gave me a chance to show what I can do,” as Stewart added.

While race — and sex — may be “some of the worst predictors of what actually makes an individual unique,” as columnist College senior Kyle Henson wrote last year, they are still reasonable indicators of one’s economic and educational opportunities.

Sure, there are minority students from wealthy families and white students from lower socioeconomic statuses. In fact, there are more disadvantaged white students than racial-minority students, because whites are the majority in the United States. In the 2010 Census, 72 percent of respondents self-identified as “White alone.” Compare this to 16 percent for Hispanics and 13 percent who identified as “Black alone.”

But we need to look at percentages on race and ethnicity and their corresponding socioeconomic status to get a clearer picture. Cabrera says that people often hear the words affirmative action thrown around, but “they are not told the context, the stakes involved.”

According to a 2012 report by the Census Bureau, the median income for 2011 for non-Hispanic whites was $55,412, versus $32,229 for blacks and $38,624 for Hispanics of any race. And the National Poverty Center reports that 9.9 percent of non-Hispanic whites lived in poverty in 2010, compared to 27.4 percent of blacks and 26.6 percent of Hispanics.

Based on these figures it is clear that a focus on socioeconomic status without looking at race wouldn’t address the problems affirmative action seeks to remedy.

Whether or not people choose to ignore it, I know that my socioeconomic status stems from my ethnicity. I commend fellow columnist College junior Ernest Owens for sharing his perspective on affirmative action more than a year ago. It has taken me a long time to muster the courage to share my views on affirmative action.

I am the daughter of two Guatemalan immigrants — a father who works as a construction worker and a mother who works as a housecleaner. I am fortunate that my parents made enough to support our family and would never allow me or any of my siblings to halt our studies to work. Not all immigrant families have this luxury. My ethnicity is key to my identity, and if it was key to my admissions decision I would be proud.

Yessenia Gutierrez is a College junior from Hollywood, Fla. Her email address is gutierrez_y@hotmail.com. “Yessi Can” usually appears every Monday. Follow her @yessiwrites.

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