Op-Ed: The harmful effects of microaggressions surrounding the college admissions process

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Photo credit: Anna Brodsky

In the college admissions corridor, various pennants hang along the walls representing the past two years where Archer graduates have matriculated. For people of color, the harmful effects of microagressions surrounding the college admissions process has become an area of discomfort and discouragement, as topics such as race, athletics and socioeconomic status arise.

By Vaughan Anoa'i, News Editor

“What sport do you play?”

“Are you the first in your family to ever attend university?”

“How does it feel to get a full ride?”

“You’ll go on a scholarship of some sort, right?”

These common statements that at times feel neverending, constantly circulate and take up space within my mind as I am reminded that I will only be seen as either the “diversity candidate” or the stereotypical “dumb jock” who doesn’t have sufficient academic credentials.

It’s no secret that the college admissions process is stressful, exhausting and emotionally draining; however, I can only imagine what it must feel like to be admitted into your school of choice and ultimately feel as though you belong.

The consistent barrage of questioning that has absolutely nothing to do with my personal academic interests puts me in an uncomfortable and often discouraging position. I find that I have to repeatedly prove myself to my peers and professors, and I have yet to set foot on a college campus.

Our nation is simultaneously experiencing two separate global pandemics: COVID-19 and systemic racism that continuously bolsters microaggressions.”

— Vaughan Anoa'i

Microaggressions are commonplace experiences for many people of color, occurring more often than not in our daily lives. The effects are detrimental and long-lasting, as they perpetually diminish accomplishments — athletic, academic or otherwise — and can prompt people of color to experience imposter syndrome or stereotype threat.

According to a recent Gallup poll, 70% of people of color reported that (white) “people acted as if they were better than [people of color].” Following this, 37% people of color in the poll reported that (white) “people acted as if [people of color] were not smart.”

The numbers don’t lie. As a person of color who is in the beginning stages of the admissions process myself, I am hurt and disappointed that these prejudiced comments are still normalized and defended in society today. While I understand that microaggressions may not always be purposeful or ill-intentioned, it is important to recognize their impact is often drastically different than their intent.

According to a recent article from The Independent, microaggressions have been linked to the phrase “Death by a thousand cuts,” which signifies the trauma people of color experience when their self-worth is repeatedly “cut” and snuffed out.

Our nation is simultaneously experiencing two separate global pandemics: COVID-19 and systemic racism that continuously bolsters microaggressions.

The college process is hard enough. I urge people to become more conscious of racist stereotypes when asking students of color about their future plans. When you add the effects of racial prejudice and stereotypical labels to the already heavy college process, the weight becomes immeasurable. Can you imagine?

I often wonder if legacy admissions face the same amount of scrutiny that many people of color face in relation to the college admissions process as a whole. According to a Wall Street Journal report, “56% of the nation’s 250 institutions consider legacy within the admissions process” and “children of alumni are six times more likely to receive an acceptance letter than ordinary applicants.”

Who really has the upper hand? I’m curious to know if they get asked what sport they play or if they are the college trailblazer in their family.

So yes, to answer your previous questions, I actually do play a sport. And no, I didn’t just pose for the application.

No, I am not the first person in my family to attend university.

If given the opportunity, I’d feel honored to receive a full-ride for my education and athletic abilities, as that is nothing to be ashamed of.

And finally, it is my hope that we can move forward and remember the importance of thinking before you speak and recognizing that everyone will travel down their own paths, and should not be judged collectively.

Do better.