by Sara Calvert-Kubrom, former admissions officer at Lewis & Clark College
This year we are seeing substantial changes to the landscape of admission as colleges respond to complex dynamics in our country and the sudden shift to test optional policies due to standardized testing cancellations. With the frequent absence of test scores, many colleges have added new supplemental essay requirements to their applications as a way to learn more about students, and to enhance their ability to be thoughtful community builders for their campuses.
Although academic readiness and fit are always the first priority of admissions officers, it is important to remember that they are also trying to picture what the student would be like in the residence halls, at the dining table, in the classroom, and in clubs and organizations. Like families, companies, and organizations, colleges have core values and priorities that they uphold in their communities. This year, Lehigh University has a supplemental essay on their application which asks students to show that they are a strong fit for their community. Here is the prompt:
A compelling characteristic of Lehigh’s community is that our students want to be actively engaged in their learning, their community, and the world. Our students look to make a difference and have a real-world impact. We expect our community to challenge your viewpoint, your naturalized assumptions, and the way that you see the world around you. In the words of students from Lehigh’s Black Student Union: “We must continue to disparage those who promote racism and police brutality in our country. We must also call out the idle individuals who have become complacent in a time where their voice is paramount.” (Choose one question and reply with 300 words or less)
- Tell us how you have taken steps to educate others and/or yourself on anti-racism?
- What’s one way you think your life would have been different had you been born another race?
- What would you want to be different in your own country or community to respond to issues of inequality, inequity, or injustice?
I suspect that these questions are intimidating to many students. First, remember that this is not a scholarly essay and that they are inviting you to be authentic, creative, and personally reflective. Lehigh does not expect students to have solutions to these complex topics or to be experts on race, but they do want them to show that they are critical thinkers, thoughtful, respectful, open to personal growth, and ready to join a community that values diversity, dialogue, and action.
In preparing to write this supplement, if the term “anti-racism” is new to you (it is for many), I encourage you to start by learning what it means. Then, it is helpful for students to learn a bit more about Lehigh and their commitment to anti-racism and diversity. Read their Mission, Vision, and Values statement which has a clear commitment to diversity and equity. Peruse their robust list of student organizations, which includes many groups related to identity. Read about their Resistance Lab Center for Research on the Prevention of Gender-Based Violence and their commitment to anti-racism. Explore their academic catalog to learn about academic opportunities linked to diversity. Although the supplement does not directly ask you do to any of these things, I first encourage you to learn about Lehigh’s values and dedication to anti-racism and reflect on what this might mean for you. Then, take some time to brainstorm – this could be done alone with lists and free writing or in conversation with a trusted friend or family member – to reflect on the ways race has or has not impacted your life, your experiences with racism and anti-racism, and your desires for society around these complex topics.
With whatever you write, I encourage you to be respectful, think critically, and dig deep in your personal reflection so that you come to life on the computer screens of the admissions officers reading your essay as a person they can see thoughtfully engaging in their community. They know that all humans are in different places of their journeys in life about race and racism, so don’t feel inadequate if you are just beginning to explore these topics. Instead, if you are inspired by Lehigh’s dedication to anti-racism and eager to join their community of critical thinkers and change-agents, see this as an opportunity for growth and reflection. As the mom of a bi-racial little one, I am inspired by the work being done by our youth to make meaningful change in society, and grateful and optimistic that they are paving the way to a better world for him.