Ellen Frierson | Seek out more Southern students
Penn still has some challenges to face before achieving true diversity
June 16, 2011, 2:46 am · Updated June 16, 2011, 12:00 am·
It’s one of the first questions you will ever be asked in college: “where are you from?”
The first time I answered this question, my hall mates gave me quizzical looks. “Charlottesville? Where’s that?”
“Virginia,” I reply. “Where the University of Virginia is.” Sometimes this gains nods of approval, other times it does little to alleviate looks of confusion.
The girl next to me with long dark hair answers, “Long Island.” Immediately, half of my hallmates sit forward in their seats. Where on Long Island? Soon they are bonding over friends-of-friends-of-friends from back home, and I am left with an unfamiliar list of town names and highway exit numbers.
For a school that loves to boast of its diversity and high yield of international students, Penn’s national recruiting leaves much to be desired. Regional diversity is almost non-existent here.
Most Penn students are from certain pockets of the United States. Forty percent of the Class of 2014 alone is from Pennsylvania, New York or New Jersey. Another 14 percent comes from California or Florida. Eleven percent is international, leaving less than half the class to be selected from the other 45 states.
One of the most underrepresented regions at Penn is the Southeast.
According to admissions data, only 59 of the 2,416 students in the Class of 2014 are from Virginia. However, the number is misleading, as almost all of these students come from the Washington, D.C., suburbs of northern Virginia. The students I have met from this area claim D.C. as their home, and don’t consider themselves to be southern in any sense.
Numbers from other Southeastern states range from average to dismal. North Carolina and Georgia sent 21 and 36 students to the Class of 2014, respectively, yet their mutual neighbor South Carolina sent a paltry seven. Meanwhile, Kentucky, Mississippi and Arkansas struggle for representation, sending only three students each last year.
I refuse to believe that these numbers are so low because southern students are unqualified. Despite persistent problems of poverty and poor public education, there are some excellent schools in the South that turn out intelligent students.
I blame these low yield numbers on ignorance.
Many southern students are ignorant of opportunities that lie outside of the South. Many southern students know only Ivy League schools mentioned often in the media, and are rarely encouraged to apply to such institutions, opting instead for in-state alternatives.
On the other hand, Penn cannot be completely blameless. During my junior year college search, I had to travel an hour to Richmond, Va., on a Wednesday night to hear a presentation about Penn (along with four other universities). Every other Ivy League institution had sent a representative to my very own high school.
Similarly, Penn’s alumni network did not extend close to my town. Thus, not only did I not have the privilege of an admissions interview, but once accepted, I was absorbed by the D.C. alumni group. Although I appreciated the inclusion, I was not willing to drive four hours on a Thursday night for a two-hour reception at an alum’s house.
Being a white girl from the South, there is no automatic club I fit into here at Penn. I often joke with my family about starting SCAG — the Southern Culture Appreciation Group — whose members would eat fried foods and watch southern classics like Steel Magnolias and Forrest Gump. Unfortunately, I’m afraid there are simply not enough southern students at Penn to constitute such a group.
Although Penn has not yet released full data for the Class of 2015, I know one thing for sure: not one student from my high school will be attending Penn in the fall. Nor will there be any from two other large high schools in my area, both of which sent students to the Class of 2014.
Even worse, no student from the entire state of Kentucky will be a freshman on campus next year. Clearly, Penn still has some challenges to face before achieving the perfect diversity.
Ellen Frierson is a rising College sophomore and Summer Pennsylvanian design editor from Charlottesville, Va. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.