There’s an interesting piece on “The Huffington Post” by Jim Downs, an Associate Professor of History and American Studies at Connecticut College, that we wanted to draw to your attention. Entitled “No, She Didn’t! Affirmative Action and Alumni Admissions Reps,” Downs describes a situation in which he was at a coffee shop in New York City observing an alumni interview interview three prospective students to her alma mater. His post is certainly alarming, though it’s nothing we haven’t been writing about for years.
Downs describes how the first interviewee who came into the coffee shop to be interviewed was African American young woman. During the interview, the alumni interviewer stressed to the applicant the need to really take advantage of professors’ office hours, how to decide upon a major, and how to develop relationships with professors. The next applicant that came through the door was a “white nerdy guy” who was smart, with a particular interest in “urban landscapes and poverty.” During this interview, the alumni interview apparently allowed the interviewee to demonstrate his keen intellectual curiosity. The third interviewee was a snowboarder who didn’t seem to have brushed her hair in years. The interviewer and interviewee really seemed to hit it off as they shared a whole lot in common. In fact, the interviewer spent much of the time sharing anecdotes of her own experiences snowboarding.
Downs is absolutely right when he asserts that white privilege can sneak its way in (and sometimes not even sneak!) to college alumni interviews. Alumni interviews are far from perfect, but they are opportunities for prospective students to learn about schools — although the perspective is often quite biased. This alumni interviewer was clearly poorly trained (many interviewers are never trained and don’t even read the instructions they are given beforehand) because you’re certainly not supposed to ask an applicant his or her SAT scores. Alumni interviews, while a component in the highly selective college admissions process, aren’t the key determinant to admission and this interviewer proves just why.