I love to ask people how they got to the College and why they chose it over other schools. In one of those conversations, someone told me I was lucky because it was easier for me to get into the College because I am a minority. He went on to say that because I am African, writing the admissions essay must have been a piece of cake since I have such a great story. He must have thought I didn’t understand what he was saying, so he went on: “If there are two students who are both highly qualified and one is white and the other a minority student, the minority will get in.” I knew our conversation was headed toward affirmative action so in a moment of weakness, I chose not to engage in that conversation. I had just gotten here. The last thing I wanted was to start questioning whether I truly belonged at the College.
As much as I disagree with these assumptions, I do understand why someone would think it is easier for minorities to get into top schools. Being a minority is often associated with being socially disadvantaged. Being African means coming from one of the poorest places on the planet. Together, these qualities make the recipe for one sad application essay that will woo the admissions officers and give those applicants an advantage over a white student who grew up in a privileged family. Besides, people might ask, what can someone who was brought up in an advantaged family write about?
However, the admissions process is not that simple. Each application is read for 20 minutes and then passed on to one or two more officers. If one factor really stood out more than the others, then why spend an hour on each application? Apart from the obvious, the College tries to make the campus diverse so as to reflect the demographics of the United States. Thus another important factor in admissions is judging students according to where they come from. It’s unfortunate that, in some cases, both white and minority applicants come from poor school systems and rough environments. If all students were to be judged by the same standard, any college would be doing itself a disservice. It would be judging apples and oranges on the same scale. A student who comes from a public school with a graduation rate of 50 percent cannot be judged on the same scale as a student who comes from a private school with a 95-percent graduation rate.
Some might assume that minority applicants will write a sad essay about every instance of unfair treatment they have encountered in their lives. While some students have faced more challenges than others, we have all gone through difficult times. Suffering is relative. We all have a sad story to tell; that’s why having a sad story doesn’t give anyone an advantage. The most important thing is not what or who you lost but how that made you a better person or helped you change the lives of others. Sad stories will definitely get you some sympathy, but not admission to a top college. College admissions officers are every student’s best friends. They won’t let any applicant in unless they are fully convinced they will be able to survive in an academically challenging environment. They know that if any student is ill-qualified and admitted because of a single factor, that student will be miserable.
Anyone who thinks they don’t have an interesting story because they come from privilege is selling themselves short. If it were up to me, everyone here would write a memoir. At the College alone, there are more than 2000 stories that we could learn from, and every story is interesting and worth listening to. Last April, I had the privilege to meet the CEO of the Coca-Cola Company, Muhtar Kent. He told me, “If you can have the humility to talk to me, you should do the same to the person in the street because we all have important stories.” We are Williams because we are not one story or one experience. We are Williams because we all have an important story to tell. We are Williams because we are all uniquely different.
Mpaza Kapembwa ’15 is from Atlanta, Ga. He lives in Williams Hall.