On college applications, you’ll probably come across a question like this, “I consider myself to belong to the following ethnic group(s) (check all that apply)”. At least for myself, this is an easy question to answer: my eyes automatically scan the page for “Mexican-American”. Boom. I mark it and move on to the next part of the application. For some though, this can be seen like a trick question. In a conversation I had with a friend, I discovered the nuances and tricks that this question can pose. For instance, “Hmm, so if I mark an ethnic identity do I get a scholarship? If I mark an identity will that give me brownie points with the admissions staff?” I stared at my friend dumbfounded. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or scream. Was he suggesting that folks, like myself, who belong to an ethnic category through no choice of their own, had it easier at higher educational institutions? The short and easy answer is no. But since I like to complicate things, I’ll invite you to my thoughts.
Let me tell you something….college was hard for people like me- the first generation, ethnically identified, low income, whatever-other-category-you choose students. The difficulty with school wasn’t due largely to rigor of the curriculum; we chose to be at school because we liked it; no, the issues were much larger than that. For us, we had to think about our families we were leaving behind: “How can I help out with the bills this year if I am not there to contribute? How can mom and dad help me with my OWN bills, if I cannot contribute to the household income? How can I make friends at school if they don’t have to go through what I am going through?” For some of us, the issues got too big to handle. One particularly bright student had to drop out her junior year in college because of dad’s newly discovered thyroid problem. Another dropped out his senior year from his engineering program because mom could no longer work due to deportation procedures.
In short, we can come with a lot of baggage; baggage that puts many, many obstacles in our way of graduating from a higher educational institution. According to who you choose to believe, Hispanic and African American students have between a 40 and 49 percent chance of graduating within six years from a university (The Chronicle, 2010), as compared with their white counterparts who have a 60 percent graduation rate.
When people choose an ethnic identity because of the “benefits” in higher educations, it tends to cheapen an ethnic identity. It’s as though being Mexican-American, for example, will buy your way into the college of your choice and that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Come college application time and you come across this ethnicity question, I ask you to think of these things. I ask you to answer honestly, and move on to the next part of the application.