Minority Seniors in the US Navigate College Admissions Without Affirmative Action Support

When Hillary Amofa began writing her college essay, she recounted the story she believed admissions officers wanted to hear. About being the daughter of Ghanaian immigrants and growing up in a modest Chicago apartment. Regarding difficulty and struggle.

Then she removed everything.

“I would just find myself kind of trauma-dumping,” said the 18-year-old senior from Lincoln Park High School in Chicago. “And I’m just like, this doesn’t really say anything about me as a person.”


When the Supreme Court banned affirmative action in higher education, the college essay became one of the only venues where race could be considered in admissions decisions. Many students of color felt that the already high-stakes writing assignment had become much more important. Some claim they felt pressured to exaggerate their difficulties as they battled for a spot on campus.

Amofa was just starting to think about her essay when the court released its verdict, which left her with a lot of questions. Could she continue writing about her race? Could she be punished for it? She wanted to inform universities about her background without being defined by it.

Amofa and her classmates read example writings in English class, and they all seemed to be about tragedy or hardship. It left her feeling as if she needed to write about her most difficult experiences in order to demonstrate how far she’d come. However, she and some of her friends questioned whether their lives had been difficult enough to attract the notice of admissions officers.

“For a lot of students, there’s a feeling of, like, having to go through something so horrible to feel worthy of going to school, which is kind of sad,” said Amofa, a hospital technician’s daughter and an Uber driver.

This year’s senior class is the first in decades to go through college admissions without affirmative action.

The policy aimed to increase job and educational possibilities for minorities and women.

The Supreme Court maintained the practice in rulings dating back to the 1970s, but current court’s conservative majority ruled it unlawful for institutions to give students greater weight based only on their race.

Nonetheless, the judgment allowed for race to have an indirect role: Chief Justice John Roberts stated that institutions might still analyze how an applicant’s life was impacted by their race, “so long as that discussion is concretely tied to a quality of character or unique ability.”

“A benefit to a student who overcame racial discrimination, for example, must be tied to that student’s courage and determination,” he stated in the letter.

Scores of institutions replied with new essay prompts that inquired about students’ backgrounds. Brown University invited applicants to share “an aspect of your growing up that has inspired or challenged you.” Rice University asked students about how their ideas were influenced by their “background, experiences, upbringing, and/or racial identity.”

“It’s because I’m different that I provide something precious to the world”

Max Decker of Portland, Oregon, had written a college essay on one topic before changing his mind after the Supreme Court’s June decision.

Decker first wrote about his passion of video gaming. In a childhood filled with frequent change as he navigated his parents’ divorce, the games he took with him on his Nintendo DS provided solace.

However, the essay he submitted to colleges centered on the community he discovered through Word is Bond, a leadership club for young Black men in Portland.

Decker noted that as the only multiracial, Jewish child with divorced parents in a largely white, Christian community, he felt like an outcast all the time. On a trip to Capitol Hill with Word is Bond, he and companions who looked like him exchanged handshakes with senators. He claimed that the encounter impacted his perspective on himself.

“It’s because I’m different that I provide something precious to the world, not the other way around,” he said.

Decker, a first-generation college student, reflected on the subtle ways in which his friends appeared to be more knowledgeable about the admissions process. They made sure to enroll in advanced classes at the start of high school and knew how to receive great letters of recommendation.

If writing about race would provide him a minor advantage and provide admissions authorities with a more complete picture of his accomplishments, he wanted to seize that opportunity.

Decker’s first memory of race occurred when he went to get a haircut in elementary school and the barber made disparaging remarks about his curly hair. Until recently, the insecurity the event induced caused him to keep his hair short.

Exploring your identity

Decker said Word is Bond provided him with a space to examine his identity as a black man. It was one of the first occasions he was surrounded by Black peers and encountered Black role models. It made him feel proud of his identity. No more buzzcuts.

Decker admitted that the pressure to write about race forced him to sacrifice other vital aspects of his life. That included his interest for journalism, such as the article he wrote about efforts to revitalize Portland’s once-thriving Black neighborhood. In the end, he crammed 100 characters about his journalism into the application’s activities section.

“My final essay seemed authentic to me. But the difference between that and my other essay was that it wasn’t always the truth that I wanted to communicate,” explained Decker, whose top college option is Tulane University in New Orleans due to the region’s diversity. “It felt like I just had to limit the truth I was sharing to what I feel like the world is expecting of me.”

Amofa previously believed that affirmative action was solely practiced at colleges such as Harvard and Yale. Following the court’s decision, she was astonished to see that race was taken into account at several of the public universities she was applying to.

Without affirmative action, she questioned if predominantly white schools might become even whiter.

It’s been on her mind as she decides between Indiana University and the University of Dayton, both of which have few Black students. When she was one of the only Black children in her elementary school, she could rely on her family and Ghanaian friends at church. At college, she is concerned about loneliness.

“That’s what makes me nervous,” she admitted. “Going and just feeling so isolated, even though I’m constantly around people.”

The initial drafts of her article were about growing up in a low-income home, sharing a bedroom with her brother and grandma. However, it did not inform colleges about who she is now, she claimed.

Her last article describes how she came to appreciate her natural hair. She wrote about attending a largely white elementary school when students made fun about her afro. They also mocked her grandmother’s braids and cornrows when she returned with them.

Over time, she overcame their taunts and saw beauty in the styles worn by ladies she knew. She currently owns a shop in her area that offers braids and other hairstyles.

“I stopped seeing myself through the lens of the European traditional beauty standards and started seeing myself through the lens that I created,” she said.




Written by PH

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