Letter to the Editor: Reed and Holistic Admission

By Milyon Trulove, Vice President and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Reed College

Even before the release of the 237-page Supreme Court ruling in June, Gallup and Pew data show most Americans, including Americans of color, agreed that Affirmative Action in college admission was a bad idea. So when the Supreme Court banned the explicit use of race in admission, many silently nodded and went about their day. 

If you supported the use of race in admission, it’s likely you were frustrated after the ruling but may have subsequently moved on.

The term affirmative action should come with a trigger warning. These two words create a visceral reaction in most people, whether it be confusing, positive, or negative. When applied to the topic of college admission, an area where insecurity often prevails, the concept may feel downright mean. 

When discussed as Affirmative Action, one would lead you to believe that admitting a student based on race is akin to an on or off switch. One flick and a student of color is in, which means that another student is out. 

We’re not talking about affirmative action or an auto-draft process; we’re talking about race-conscious admission, considering one’s ethnicity as one of several criteria in a holistic admission process.

Holistic admission is the antithesis of bifurcated decision making. With the submission of application materials, the admission committee endeavors to fully understand how you, the applicant, came to be in front of us. The combination of your trips to the state fair supporting a favored grass-roots candidate, abrupt awakenings from your after-school nap on the auditorium floor to rehearse five lines in Grease, sprints to the ice cream shop to replace French Vanilla with Bubble Gum Swirl for your younger three siblings, or discovery that your best friend’s mom thought differently of you because of her experience with and preconceived ideas about other Black people, all help us understand how your lived experience might show up in our classroom and among our fellow community members.

Being a page, actor, older sibling, and African-American, all play a role in how one interacts with the world. Why would any entity deny a student the opportunity to share a critical part of their identity or share their story, whether it’s via a checkbox on the application, an essay, or an interview?

Reed values ethnic diversity among its staff, students, and faculty. We believe that our education is for people of color. We want our campus to represent a wide variety of ethnicities because sharing and understanding diverse perspectives in our classrooms makes a stronger society after graduation. We are a better school when we are broadly ethnically diverse.

In partnership with current students, we at Reed have crafted an optional essay prompt so students can express the impact of their lived experiences. It reads, “How might aspects of your identity positively influence the living and learning community at Reed?” The newest Reed essay will help support our efforts of creating a college community with diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences that develop due to who each person is. The essay is new, but the objective is seasoned.

The Supreme Court has issued a mandate and dictated the tactic. Beware of those who suggest this ruling means much more than a process change in admission. We must take care to invest in our principles because what we care about is under assault. This is a change in procedures, not a change in our values. 

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