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Affirm Our Spots

In the wake of the overturning of affirmative action in higher education, I think it’s crucial for

supporter of affirmative actions at protest
supporters of affirmative action

us to discuss exactly why it is believed that Black and Latino individuals are not considered to have “earned” their places in prestigious institutions. The Students For Fair Admissions v. Harvard court case led to the overturning of the 50-year law was initiated on the basis that black students were “stealing” the places of those who were better deserving.

As an African-American rising sophomore at Boston University, I have had many friends of

mine recall instances of their classmates- having attended predominantly white high schools- telling them that they were only accepted to BU because they were Black. Insinuating that the only reason that they were accepted was to fulfill the school’s diversity quota, not only disregarding but completely disrespecting the work that these students put into getting into these programs.

There is a particular student that comes to mind. Within her program in high school, she was one of 2 black people within the program. She took 9 Advanced Placement classes and scored very highly on the exams, she was the president of the programming club at her school, established a non-profit organization, she had many internships with major companies, and many more achievements. However, when she was accepted into BU, her classmates told her that she only got in because she was Black. The stories go on and on, different people but the same story, I attended a predominately black high school when accepted to BU, and the validity of my acceptance was never questioned. So, there seems like a disconnect in the way people of other cultures value the work of Black people, but this is nothing new, our work in this country has long been undervalued- stemming back to slavery.

In my first Neuroscience class, we had a “women in stem” faculty seminar. During the “diverse” seminar there were many speakers, but what I noticed was there were no Black or Latino professors speaking. This made me wrack my brain pondering whether I’d ever seen a Black STEM professor on campus much less a Black female STEM professor- I hadn’t- and at first, this felt very disheartening; I knew I wasn’t the only one that noticed this fact. Speaking to other black classmates, we all noticed and we wanted to march straight to the dean and demand a change but we took a moment to consider what the underlying reason for this may be.

The first black woman to teach Neuroscience at Rochester Institute of Technology
Dr. Monique Mendes Ph.D Neuroscience

In 2020, Rochester Institute of Technology had its first black woman graduate with their Ph.D. in Neuroscience, Dr. Monique Mendes, only three years ago. To be a professor at a university, a Ph.D. is a minimum requirement, and usually, STEM professors are individuals researching on a college campus. According to Zippia, Black students account for 11.0% of a doctoral class, and of that 11%, of these black students only 16% major in STEM fields. In 2020, 55,283 doctorate degrees were awarded in the United States, using the numbers that we have approximately 973 black students graduating with Doctoral degrees in STEM nationwide, and of this number only a handful studied neuro-biology. Being a researcher is not a very financially lucrative career, so almost all of these students choose higher-paying jobs in biotechnology or related fields. While schools can put more into curating a more diverse faculty, this would require these black doctors to accept lower-paying jobs where they can alternatively, get much higher-paying jobs.

Few black students are being accepted to doctoral programs, and even more pressing than that, many black individuals feel like they don’t even have a place within these programs. Many stop at their masters believing it’s enough to just have the degree to make money. Additionally, they don’t believe they will make it into the programs so they don’t apply. We don’t allow ourselves the opportunity to be the change that we want to see in society. It’s not all on us though, many individuals in our communities tell us to settle for what’s safe.

When I was applying to college, I took a college prep course and in this course, they taught us our post-secondary options. We spent almost all the time in this course learning about SUNYs and CUNYs, spending almost no time learning about private schools and no time on any prestigious school. At no time in my application process did my advisor encourage us to apply to prestigious schools. They told us that we shouldn’t apply to prestigious schools because they had low acceptance rates and we weren’t likely to get in. I was determined to apply to BU early decision but to do this, my counselor had to sign off on my decision. She tried to discourage me from early-decision application despite it giving me a higher chance of getting in. I had to be firm in my decision and advocate for myself to finally get her to sign off on the decision. This is all too common in our communities, we’re almost not allowed to dream bigger than what we are. This is why not only do we feel like we don’t belong in these higher spaces but also why others view us as the odd ones out in these spaces. How dare we apply to be there? How dare we be accepted? How dare we be included? How dare we be in THEIR spaces? How dare WE get in somewhere that THEY were rejected from?

I have a saying that I stick to - “Only Change Brings Change”. Only when we believe that we truly belong in a space can we bring the confidence and tenacity to insist on our place instead of cowering from the what-ifs that come from the doubts of our capabilities. Despite the removal of affirmative action in higher education, Black and Brown people have earned their spots in these institutions, and the first thing we have to do to demonstrate that we belong in these institutions is to believe we belong by actually believing in ourselves.

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