For Real Teachers In Our Toughest Schools
Friday March 24th 2017



Stanford Doesn’t Want My Poor Black and Latino Students—It’s Part of Their Admissions Policy

treefallFor ten years I have yet to see Stanford admit a black or Latino student from my Title I high school. I’m talking about kids with a 4.4 GPA who work in the mayor’s office, volunteer in the community, and are leaders in myriad capacities on and off campus. I’m talking about black and Latino kids who have never received a B for a grade, who aced AP Biology, AP Literature, AP Calculus, and all the other AP classes we offer here. I’m talking about kids who take classes at the community college over summer for college credit. Acceptance rate: 0% for a decade.

And here we are approaching another application deadline and I have my seniors asking me if they should apply to Stanford. I know full well what a burden the $80 application fee is for their family. What do I tell them?

Stanford and most other elite private universities still have policies that give an enormous admitting advantage to affluent white people. In the year 2016. Yes, you read that right. According to the Harvard Graduate School of Education, these schools have an admissions policy that knowingly bestows up to a 45 percentage-point benefit to people who are already the most privileged among us–namely, kids whose parents graduated from these schools.

Daniel Golden, author of the book The Price of Admission: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges—and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates, estimates 15-20% of every incoming class admitted to elite private universities are the children of alumni, and 70% of those Legacy students admitted wouldn’t have gotten in otherwise. So much for America the meritocracy.

The argument for this racist policy seems to be as follows: Well, their parents donate so much money to the university, shouldn’t they get something out of it? Ethical answer: No, of course not. Additionally, proponents claim the universities themselves need the money to function, so they need those wealthy alumni to keep donating. Need I point out the bratty sense of entitlement in both of these positions? The underlying logic here demands rich people get special privileges when they give people money, and those who get the money need the money for things. In the world of private Catholic universities, it makes you wonder: Who would Jesus bribe (and who would he give preference to)?

Not to mention Richard Kahlenberg, author of Affirmative Action for the Rich: Legacy Preferences in College Admissions, debunks all the arguments for Legacy admissions here, and definitively shows that Legacy parents don’t affect a university’s bottom line anyway. They are just letting these kids in because they are part of the aristocracy, period.

This is the kind of logic that people like Brock Turner’s dad use to defend rape. Why should his son have to go to jail like everyone else who rapes people? After all, he is an affluent white male, an all American boy, he is really good at swimming, he should somehow be entitled to privileges others don’t have. I wonder if these people would feel the same way if a black male raped their white daughter.

Because race does play into this. Just like voter ID laws struck down in Texas, these policies are patently discriminatory. Requiring ID to vote isn’t itself racist, until you look into it and find these laws disproportionately impact poor communities of color. Then you find those laws were created knowingly and intentionally to disenfranchise minority groups by those in the majority. I don’t see how Stanford’s legacy admissions are any different.

Stanford is more aware than anyone who this policy disenfranchises: My students. Graduates of Stanford are overwhelmingly white (and increasingly Asian), and graduates of Stanford are almost guaranteed to become affluent because of what the pedigree gets them. They know this, and have grandfathered in a policy designed to give an advantage to a group of people who are overwhelmingly white and affluent. This inherently creates barriers to people who don’t fall into those categories—people who are not white nor affluent. To state it simply, Stanford and other elite universities knowingly have admissions policies that put poor students of color at a distinct disadvantage. This is why places like Baltimore and Charlotte get shut down. This is why people like Colin Kaepernick kneel. People in this country feel like the game is rigged, and of course they are completely right.

This is plutocratic nepotism at its worst. Stanford claims applications are now only read once, and yet Legacy applications get a second read, the extra set of eyes engaged in the same questioning farce as the first, asking: How can we justify taking this student?

I wish they were asking that about my students. Sure, they give some credence to students of color who are poor, but they sure aren’t reserving for them a fifth of their freshman class.

As a teacher in a diverse Bay Area high school where over 45 languages are spoken, I feel like I have insight into the youth many people don’t. I don’t think many people know how many students of color are out there with a 4.3 GPA. From the discourse of our Presidential campaigns, especially from one side, students of color seem to be viewed through a deficit lens who live in a “hell” of their own creation. I think people would be surprised at the absolutely brilliant Mexicans I have in my AP classes, the amazing Puerto Rican seniors with 4.2 GPAs applying to UCLA and Cal, the outstanding black students who continually jettison from this school with their 4.4 GPAs and community service and take their insane skills to some of the top colleges on earth. Maybe it’s California. Maybe it’s the Bay Area, but I can’t tell you how many kids in poverty I know who could take on Stanford, Harvard, Yale, without a problem if given the chance.

Except for they are at a disadvantage, knowingly put in place by the schools themselves—schools who make it easier for white children of the 1%, who have grown up with every advantage, to continue the legacy of their family at the expense of another’s.

I find this despicable. I hate looking into the wide eyes of a senior Guatemalan student—who has scrubbed toilets since she was 9 for people who say things to her like, “How can someone like you be in so many AP classes?”—only to tell her she probably shouldn’t even apply to Stanford because not only is she at such a disadvantage, but her application fee will be subsidizing the rich boy whose toilet she scrubs, who hasn’t taken as many AP classes, who got a lower SAT score, who drives a Mercedes, and who was born with the correct gender, race, hair and skin color. For her, the application fee is a weight on her whole family. How can I justify telling her to reach for the school of her dreams when the process gives him such an advantage?

Don’t just take my word for it—take Stanford’s. The Stanford Daily has run articles about this same issue, and one alumni writer feels the same way as I do, going so far as to say Legacy admissions are a good thing only in that it is an easy way to prove these elite universities are corrupt. At least with these policies in place people like me can so easily point out egregious racism and always be right.

For me, the only thing Stanford, and all other elite universities like Harvard and Yale can do to make amends would be to reverse this policy for as long as it has been in place. Notice I said reverse, not eliminate. Here’s my proposal: I think my students, that is, low-income non-whites, should be given a 45 percentage-point advantage for the next hundred years. If this policy is so right, why not share it? You know what that would do? All of a sudden graduates of the top universities in the country, who move into the biggest positions of power in business and government, would have a little more pigment in their skin. They would start their own legacies, and our boardrooms and senate chambers would begin to reflect the diversity of the American people.

And to those poor legacy families left behind I would ask this: You know that feeling you would get if I told you my students had ten times the advantage of getting into Stanford as your child, that feeling of rage, helplessness, that feeling that other people’s kids are getting something they haven’t worked for and they don’t deserve? You know that feeling–that somehow opportunity is just not the same for you and your children?

That’s how we feel all the time, for all our lives.


Reader Feedback

4 Responses to “Stanford Doesn’t Want My Poor Black and Latino Students—It’s Part of Their Admissions Policy”

  1. Cheshala says:

    Dear Teach 4 Real,

    Where do your facts come from? Stanford has over 9% African American undergrads. Jackson Beard is the AASU executive and Mylan Gray is deputy chair for the AASU Undergraduate Senate both are African American. Last year’s student reps for the Faculty Senate were both African American also.

    So are you saying that Condoleezza Rice who is a sitting professor for both the Political Science Department and Graduate School of Business is a “token” minority? Or do you mean to say that the Vice-Provost for Undergraduate Education Harry Elam would knowingly not allow African Americans from Hayward into the Stanford if they met the criteria and were picked among the thousands of students who apply each year?

    There are some legacy students who shouldn’t get in but Stanford is now fully subsidizing low-income students with a full tuition. How do Berkeley, UCLA or Davis pick their students from the thousands that apply?

    In such a highly charged time where people are striking out at religious groups, blue uniforms and white people it makes me sad that you as an educator are spreading hate and discord. There are poor white people do you realize that? There are poor people of every ethnicity who have over 4.0 gpas and don’t get into the college of their choice. If you want to complain about policy how about not creating further anger between ethnicities.

    You should try to create solutions instead of compounding problems. If it bothers you so much about your underprivileged students pay for their fees or start a scholarship fund for them.

    You should fact check before you publish!

  2. Katrina Neill says:

    Hi Matt,

    It’s been awhile since I’ve touched base with you. I used to teach AVID to middle schoolers at a Title I school here in Elk Grove and about 4 years ago I transferred over to one of our highest performing high schools in the district. Not Title I, not as diverse, but still a decent make-up of all the ethnicities you serve. I’m back in the AVID classroom teaching 10th graders. They are quite the group, bright-eyed and ready to take on their challenges and achieve their goals. In my class, I have mostly Latinos and Asians, but the other 10th grade class also has Black students, there are about 6 in a class of 25 (not as many as we would like represented). Our goal, closing the achievement gap, is limited to a small percentage of Black students, much like the percentages of the American population, around 12%. First off, I was shocked to read this and actually let my AVID students read it. I’ve told them I’ve been following you for quite some time. A couple of my students said that Stanford is their dream college. They feel as if they don’t have a chance after reading your message. I told them not to get discouraged by this. Stanford is the most prestigious university on the west coast, private, and still known for producing the most high functioning graduates west of the Mississippi (I assume). The odds of getting in our almost slim to none. One of my students sent me this article:

    She wondered if Stanford admissions were so racist, why did they have the highest application rate in their history this past year? I don’t want my students to think that all prestigious colleges are only looking at race, that they don’t consider a glowing transcript with exceptional extra-curricular activities. I’ve had a few of my former 7th grade AVID kids (all from the Title I environment) get into Berkeley, even Brown University on a full ride. I want my kids to strive for their best, regardless of the color of their skin. I want them to believe that just getting into a school like Berkeley or UC Davis or UCSF is the most amazing opportunity of their lifetime. If Stanford doesn’t accept them, it’s because the numbers are already against them, not the color of their skin. College acceptance is so competitive already, with numbers of applicants increasing every year. Kids today are told that if they don’t have a college degree, they won’t have the same opportunities to get ahead in life. What happens when they don’t have the skills to survive college altogether?

    At the same time, I’m disheartened by your school’s denied stats based on your top kids. Do you know of any other Title I schools in the Bay Area that have a better success rate? I would like to know if you’ve contacted Admissions to share your story and get a deeper understanding of their admissions criteria.

    Best of luck to you and your kids this year! It will be an interesting time after this election. Looking forward to your write up when we have a new President.

  3. Another excellent, well thought-out article. I am taking students to Stanford next week, so this article seems very timely. Keep up the great work.

  4. Paul says:

    It’s good to see you writing again, Matt. You have a passion for what you’re doing, and a great love for your students.

    Yeah, so much inequity in this country. In addition to addressing that, I’m hoping that in the coming years, at least some financial support for the college bound will materialize. I attended college for years and finished debt-free. Back then, pretty much everybody at college did that (well, at UC, anyway). I don’t think that it’s so easy to do these days.

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