I am a URM but I’m not just a URM
by Airi Kobayashi
This article is a response to a recent article published in The Observer: “URM debate”
I am an underrepresented minority (URM). In fact, I am a foreign-born and raised URM. My academic achievement from high school was fair but not stronger than the average SAT scores of the Class of 2012 that I was admitted for. Though the definition of poverty may vary by academic disciplines and social contexts, I cannot dare say that my family’s income level was average or more than average compared to the same graduation class. Considering my racial/ethnic background, standardized scores, and income level, I fit in your definition as a weak or below average URM. However, though academically rigorous and competitive, I never saw Notre Dame’s educational environment as discouraging. I do not find myself to be less likely to endure and progress here than non-URM students.
As you have mentioned, I agree that every collegiate-level institutions look to build a diverse student body. But this may mean different by institutions, especially for those claiming to seek well-rounded candidates. For Notre Dame, looking back at Jenn Metz’s Observer article “ND admits diverse class of 2012”on August 22, 2008, Daniel Saracino, then assistant provost for admissions, said that the estimated 1,995 first-year students admitted were all “neat, exciting and talented class” and “much more than just test scores.” Saracino specifically mentioned that he is not trying to make Notre Dame just another elite school but “to make Notre Dame a better Notre Dame.” In terms of standardized test scores, the average SAT score increased 20-point increase from last year’s class. However, he clarified that standardized test scores are not the only main qualifier for admitting students. He believed that “education goes on both inside and outside of the classroom” and admitted “bright students who are passionate.” He aimed for “diversity ‘in the broadest sense.’” He did mention that ethnic diversity was his next goal to diversify the campus. But that does not reject diversity of geographic origins, whether nationally or internationally and other types of diversity. Though the percentage of poverty level of the admitted students was not mentioned percentage of financial aid granted (we cannot assume whether granted students were of URM or non-URM background). Other factors worth mentioning, in terms of diversity, were the activeness in extracurricular activities in leadership, publications, community service, sports, and creative performances. Factors that make a candidate favorable may have changed in the past five years for the Office of Admissions. But, to say the least, we can see that what higher education institution seeks for a candidate may be each different and not only because of the three factors that defines a URM.
Another indicator that I believe Notre Dame seeks for well-rounded candidates is the high overall graduation rate. Notre Dame listed 96% as its graduation rates one of its”Indicators of Excellence” on their official website (under “About ND”), exceeded only by Harvard and Yale. I cannot say whether Notre Dame, in the past, has admitted significant number of URMs who had weaker academic achievement. Though I am aware that the percentage of racial/ethnic background may have shifted compared to the incoming and graduation class of 2012, of the 9% Hispanic, 6% Asian, 3% African-American and 1% Native American who were admitted to Notre Dame, the majority must have excelled in their studies and were academically motivated to graduate. Even if the 4% happened to be all URMs, the math still doesn’t add up.
A non-discrimination clause is one reason why the campus has an open and safe environment for people who does not identify with the backgrounds of the majority. As Notre Dame’s Office of Institutional Equity have indicated, other than race/ethnicity, “color, national origin, sex, disability, veteran status, or age in the administration of any of its employment, educational programs, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, athletics, recreational, and other school-administered programs” are some factors one may be different to one another (I’m sure we are still working on gender and sexual orientation). Mr. Pearce, as you were once a college applicant yourself, you may well have something that had nothing to do with race/ethnicity that made you different from everyone else in the applicant pool when you applied to Notre Dame. In one way or another, you contribute to the diversity of Notre Dame as well.
I understand your concern that URMs with underachieved academic performance may be overwhelmed to be placed in a competitive and high-level educational environment. But that is why I am here and why I have taken every opportunity I can to better myself academically. As an incoming student, I was in the architecture program known for its rigorous 5-year curriculum. I am now a fifth year pursuing a dual degree in industrial design and information technology management. Yes, my majors are less time-consuming individually compared to architecture. But how would you define whether one major is “easier” or “harder?” I have never taken leadership roles before I came to college. But in my last four years, I have served as a Japan Club president, AAA historian, International Ambassador for international students, and mentor for SAO student club leaders. I had three on-campus jobs as a tour guide, digital printing consultant, and student librarian last year but still made it to the Dean’s List. This year, I am doing a year-long Bachelors of Fine Art thesis while boxing for Baraka Bouts for the Holy Cross Mission. You may say I am an outlier. It’s true that I cannot speak for other URMs. But this is precisely because even though we might fit in the same category, we all have different backgrounds. But as a Notre Dame student, I don’t use my racial/ethnic, income level, or my sub-average high school achievement as an excuse not take an opportunity to succeed here.
I am a URM but I am not just a URM. Would I ever know whether I was admitted because of this URM affirmative action? I do not know. But I do know that racial/ethnic background, standardized scores, and income level were not the only qualifiers that Notre Dame admitted me. I believe Notre Dame will not admit a student to see one fail. Consequently, I did not apply and attend Notre Dame because I struck a better chance to be admitted as a “diversity” student. I did not come here to steal an admission spot from non-URM students. I wanted to be a Notre Dame student. Please don’t judge the qualification of a student solely based on their ethnic/minority background.
One question I will leave to you is this: Do you think eliminating less-qualified incoming minorities like me will really negate negative stereotypes of an educational environment?
*Feel free to contact me at email@example.com. Any responses welcomed.
image via Creative Commons: http://www.flickr.com/photos/83633410@N07/7658219802/