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Ernest Owens
The Ernest Opinion

Credit: Ernest Owens

Every time I have had a discussion about my admission to Penn, my acceptance has always been questioned. I am plagued with statements like:

“It’s an unfair advantage.”

“Your SAT scores and GPA probably weren’t that strong.”

“You’re only here to make sure there’s diversity.”

If there’s one thing on campus that I can blame for these comments, it’s the prevailing discussion surrounding affirmative action. It displays not only our bigotry and snobbery but also our ignorance of the admissions process.

Many may think that I am a product of what others have deemed “reverse racism.” But, in fact, I chose not to disclose my race when applying. Could this have affected my chances? The answer is up to you.

But we must ultimately realize — whether we want to believe it or not — that all students get accepted to Penn due to their own unique advantages.

It all starts with how we define these advantages. When hearing the words “affirmative action,” the thought of disadvantaged minorities comes to mind. One is assuming that Penn is giving a shot to those who could not get in on their own merits and diversifying the campus.

But if minority students on campus are not as qualified as their peers, why do they still thrive and why is their campus participation as active as anyone else’s? And if they are here just to diversify the campus, are they only superficial tokens to boost Penn’s reputation in society?

People get up in arms when they discuss “affirmative action,” but they never raise their noses and yell that it is an unfair advantage when they hear the word “legacy.” Penn seeks out descendants of previous Quakers in the same way that it seeks out minorities. But being considered a legacy does not bear the public burden of questioned acceptance. No one is ever going to say that someone was admitted because of “nepotism action” — that would offend alumni with children who donate every year.

In addition, we should re-evaluate how we try to rationalize the mystery of the admissions process. Do any of us truly know the correct formula that will ultimately admit a Penn student? Do we measure this acceptance in SAT scores or GPAs or how many leadership positions we had in high school? Do we measure this by our gender, race, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status? Does being an athlete play a role in any of this?

Yes, yes and yes — which suggests that some combination of these qualities factored into you being able to read this column as a Quaker.

Yes, I did get accepted into Penn because of affirmative action. But so did you — and everyone else.

If you are a poor girl from a small town, Penn took note of it. If you are a legacy from the prestigious Horace Mann School in New York, Penn remembered it. If you went to public school in a middle-class neighborhood, Penn did not forget you. And if you applied all the way from Hong Kong, Penn wanted you. At the end of the day, all of us come from diverse backgrounds and trying to fathom an ideal formula for admission would be impossible.

Every day, I hear my peers question whether their acceptance was a mistake. But there is no such thing as a Penn student who doesn’t belong. Now that we have gotten acceptance, it’s time to accept one another.

We are never going to understand the admissions process. Thousands apply each year and get rejected, which should only suggest that we as Quakers should stop asking how we got in and instead appreciate that we did get in.

Ernest Owens, an Undergraduate Assembly representative, is a College sophomore from Chicago. His email address is The Ernest Opinion appears every Friday.

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