Edit Desk: ‘I didn’t take your spot’


“They only got in because they’re black.”

These were the words uttered from the mouths of many students from my former high school after acceptance letters were sent out around this time two years ago.

Sydney O'Tapi

Sydney O’Tapi

I struggled to understand what they meant by “because they’re black.” As if blackness had suddenly become a privilege. White students seemed to believe that being black gave you an edge when applying to college. Forget a lifetime of racism, prejudice, discrimination and other systemic issues black people are bound to from the time they exit the womb — at least they’re going to Harvard.

I never considered my blackness to be that of an advantage. I understood at an early age from my parents that being a black woman meant I had to work harder than my peers with more privilege. I will immediately be judged, my intelligence will immediately be questioned and I will deal with a slew of misconceptions and stereotypes. Nineteen years into my life, and I still hold my parents advice true.

As a high school senior, I had trouble understanding how students could believe that being black and successful gets you a free ticket to any college of your choice despite 400 years of slavery, nearly 100 years of Jim Crow laws and the fallacy of post-racial America. Add in the school-to-prison pipeline, systemic racism and the disregard for black lives — black people have so many odds against them.

Suzy Lee Weiss didn’t quite understand this after she was rejected from several Ivy League schools despite her impressive GPA, test scores and extra curriculars. She then wrote an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal lamenting about her desire to be special, to stand out and to have a controversial identity. As a result, she trivialized the experiences of several other students. Weiss, like many people with inherent privileges, decided to shift the blame onto other people who “took her spot.” She didn’t realize the social ramifications of someone’s identity that follow him or her for the rest of their life.

According to the State of Working America’s website, African Americans have the highest poverty rate at 27 percent. That means that black children are more likely to be living in poverty, attending a poorly funded high school while receiving a low-quality education and are simply not afforded the same opportunities other children may have. This is where affirmative action comes in, to give opportunities to students who have been systemically disadvantaged due to their identity. White women are the biggest beneficiaries in the college admission process.

Affirmative action has been a topic of debate since its conception, many arguing that it is no longer necessary or the playing field is finally even. But statistics show that black people, women and any other historically disenfranchised group are still meet severe gaps in opportunity.

Abigail Fisher claimed that affirmative action took away her rightful spot at the University of Texas in 2008. UT admits all Texas applicants in the top 10 percent of their high school class. Eighty one percent of the 2008 freshman class was admitted under that plan, which left a small remainder of spots to students who fall below that criterion. Fisher was in the top 12 percent of her class and her GPA and SAT scores were in no way a key to the doors of UT. So why is Fisher mad? Fisher is privileged enough to believe that somehow, a spot at a prestigious University could be rightfully hers.

Hearing of this case in the news, and the backlash from thousands of black students around the country using the #StayMadAbby hashtag, where black students shared graduation photos and statistics of UT Austin’s alarming small percentage of black students that “stole Fisher’s spot.” It reminded me of the college acceptance period in high school when so many black students achievements were undermined, or students would brush off my worries with, “Oh, you’re black, you’re bound to get in.” Little did they know about the impact their words would have on students who had so much to defeat to get an acceptance.

There could have been students out there who believed I took their spot at Lehigh, but in three years I’ll be defying odds and breaking down stereotypes as I walk across the stage. And Fisher will stay mad.

Sydney O’Tapi, ’18, is an assistant news editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected].

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