Throughout high school I worked hard to take AP courses, participate in extracurriculars, and do well on my SAT/ACT exams. I spent several Saturdays taking practice exams and fine-tuning my college entrance essay because I was committed to getting into a great school. When I opened my acceptance letter from Penn, it was one of the best days of my life.
As a first-generation, low-income student from New York, I knew absolutely nothing about legacies or legacy students. Therefore, it was frustrating to learn that because someone’s parents went to Penn, their application would get a special look from the admissions office.
The idea of legacy admissions creates an unfair advantage for those students, based on no academic, athletic, or extracurricular merit. In turn, it creates a disadvantage for well-deserving minority students, who may be pushed out because of favoritism towards legacy students.
Yes, alumni bring in money to Penn. Yes, donations are valuable to Penn. Yes, universities, including Penn, operate like businesses.
But we should not be okay with that.
We, as the Penn community, should not be okay with the idea of the potential “prestige” that comes with legacy students being a factor in the application process. It is not fair to assume that another student’s status as a legacy student will have a profound impact on non-legacy students and automatically translate to future wealth and prestige.
I understand the financial impact that donations have on Penn’s campus. It is hard to miss with the constant construction of new buildings and renovations of old buildings. Donations are what fuel this University; however, donations should not buy a student's seat at Penn.
Alumni should not only be donating to Penn because it might secure their child a spot. If that is the case, Penn should do a better job at enhancing the student experience to encourage future alumni to donate because they love Penn and enjoyed their time here. Donations should not be incentivized by favoritism in the admissions process.
To clarify, I am in no way saying that legacy students do not deserve to be here, or do not belong. I understand why some legacy students may feel uncomfortable with sharing their status because of the negative stigma that comes with it. I, myself, am guilty of once scrunching my nose up at legacy students who talk about both their parents going to Penn, and for that, I am sorry.
However, as a first-generation student, it came as a slap in the face to learn of the narrative of legacy students feeling victimized by their legacy status. I do not know what it feels like to have a parent who is a Penn alum, but I think it is fair to assume that not only was the college application process easier than mine, but also that the college experience now is much easier — not only because of the financial benefit, but also because of the ability to turn to someone who has attended college before and who can provide guidance.
It is hard for me to wrap my head around or feel sorry for the legacy students who see themselves as victims. When I had my first interaction with a legacy student, I didn't feel upset that they were accepted, or upset that their parents went to Penn; instead, I felt jealous. Jealous that they grew up in a household where their parents not only went to college, but went to Penn. Jealous that I wasn't afforded that same environment. Legacy students are not victims of their situation.
The hundreds of FGLI students on Penn’s campus who have to struggle through their Free Application for Federal Student Aid applications, with parents who never went to college and might not be native English speakers, are the victims. The thousands of high school students across the country who are going through the college application process alone are the victims. The deserving college applicants who may get their seat at Penn taken by a legacy student are the victims.
To my fellow FGLI students reading this, continue to work hard to change your family’s narrative, and I’ll continue to do the same.
To the legacy students reading this, you do not have to be ashamed of your legacy status, but please recognize that you came from a place of privilege and reflect on the impact that status has on your peers. Please do not frame yourself as the victim when it comes to legacy admissions.
TYIRA BUNCHE is a College junior from New York, N.Y. studying Criminology and Economic Policy. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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