Dear Native student who was just admitted to college

In Admissions, Affirmative Action, college, college pride Native pride, Nation Building, Native students, success by Adrienne K.27 Comments

AK Note: I’ve been working on this post for a while, but last week’s comment chain on this post on Jezebel stirred me into action. I’m so sick of the myth that it’s somehow “easier” for Native students get into college, or that the government pays for our whole education. These myths and stereotypes are harmful to Native students and are patently untrue. So I thought we should talk about it. 

Dear Native High School Student who was just admitted to college,

First and foremost, congratulations! Yay! I can’t even convey in words how excited I am for you. You are making your family, your ancestors, your tribe, and your community proud. You’ve worked your butt off, putting your studies first, navigating a complex and confusing application process, making difficult choices along the way. After all those essays, standardized tests, and maybe an interview or two, you’ve done it, and I am so proud of you.

After all that work, you now get to reap the rewards. Revel in the excitement of your family, let your mom bring your admission letter to work, let your little brother wear your new college sweatshirt to school. Because you deserve the praise. I know it can feel weird sometimes, but I want you to realize that going to college is not a selfish choice. It’s a choice that will give you the means to give back to your community, and the broader Native community as well. You will have the power to shape the future of Indian Country, and that is the most decidedly un-selfish thing you can do.

But I wouldn’t be being truthful if I told you that things in the next few weeks or months won’t be hard. People may say things to you to try and diminish your accomplishments, and I want you to be prepared, but I also want you to know that they’re 100%, completely and totally, wrong.

When I got into my school, it was the happiest day of my entire life. I remember crying and jumping around my living room for what felt like hours, in complete disbelief that my dream since 5th grade had come true. But at my large, suburban, mostly white high school, others weren’t so kind. Though I had some amazing friends and teachers who supported me, the rumors started flying that I had “checked the Indian box” to “cheat the system” and get into school. My best friend told me “If I were I minority, I’d be going to your school too.” People gave me the side-eye and questioned if my admission was “legit”—while ignoring the other things like loads of AP classes, A’s, community service, and sports that might have, you know, helped. Suddenly, this girl who looked like them, talked like them, was “different,” and that wasn’t “fair.”

In all truthfulness, I went to college feeling like an imposter, having internalized all of these messages. I grew up so far away from my Native community, and had grown up with few Native influences in my life—by no fault of my own—so I thought my classmates must have been right. But from the moment I stepped onto my college campus, I made sure the Native community was a huge part of my life, volunteering at events, working at the Native center, listening, learning, and always giving back. By the end of my four years on campus, there was no question in my mind—I knew I belonged, and that my experience had given me the skills to keep learning, listening, and giving back to my own community, as well as a commitment to serve Native people and Native causes for the rest of my life.

After I graduated, I worked in undergraduate admissions, mostly because I wanted to help support and grow the college community that had given me so much. I was the Native recruiter–traveling out to communities, bouncing over rural dirt roads, presenting hundreds of times to students and families in VFW halls and HS auditoriums. Every year, I read mountains of applications and admitted amazing, talented, incredible Native students. And you know what? Not a single one of them was admitted simply because they were Native. I want to say that again. You were not admitted to college simply because you were Native. You were admitted because your special combination of talent, academics, extra curriculars, and personality was exactly what your college was looking for. Period.

In life, some people will throw around the term “Affirmative Action” like it’s a dirty word. To them, it means “some people” (ie minorities) get an “unfair advantage” in the admission process. Do you know how much “affirmative action” goes on in admissions offices that has nothing to do with race? Students of alumni (“legacies”), athletes, students from underrepresented states, children of wealthy donors, students from low income backgrounds, women interested in science and engineering, LGBT students, students with disabilities, students who have extraordinary talent in something…I could go on and on…they all get “special” consideration in the admissions process. The goal is to create a well-rounded class that represents many different perspectives, not to be able to say the class has X number of Native American students. You were not admitted to college simply because you are Native.

 In addition, you as a Native student are in a different position than other students. Your background is not just a racialized one, but a political-social identity as well. You are a citizen (or descendant) of a tribal nation. A nation that is looking for future leaders, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and engineers. Your ancestors signed treaties that promised education for their people in exchange for land, and therefore you have a sovereign right to your education. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. By going to college, you’re directly contributing to the Nation Building of your tribe, building capacity for the future. And that is so incredibly awesome.

So it may be hard in the next few months, and even harder when you get to campus, to hear these messages from your classmates—especially when dealing with the other challenges that come with going away to college. But know that there is a huge, loving, supportive Native community out there holding you up and sending you prayers and good thoughts. There were many strong Native men and women who paved the path before you, and now it’s your turn to make the path even stronger for those behind you. But don’t be afraid to reach out if you need a little extra support—there is always someone willing to help, and needing a boost is not a sign of failure, it’s a sign of your commitment to success. You can do it. You’ll be amazing. I know it.

Much love,

Adrienne K.

Readers, tomorrow I’m going to post a compilation of advice/words of wisdom for college-admitted Native students I pulled from Twitter and FB last week. If you have thoughts you’d like to add, or your own personal story to share, email me, or feel free to comment below.

Words of Inspiration: Native High Schoolers’ College Essays
Cal’s Affirmative Action Bakesale: I want my free cookies

Another post on the topic:

  • Adrienne, this is fantastic.

    I took a different route: I “checked the box” but then when it came down to it, I didn’t apply to the best schools–schools that had contacted me because of my good grades, high test scores, and, yes, my heritage–because I didn’t think I deserved it (and, okay, because I was a delusional teenager who thought she was going to be a Broadway actress and Harvard didn’t have a stellar theater program, but I digress). I had internalized those voices so much that I didn’t even give myself the option of applying, so convinced was I that I really wasn’t a good enough catch for Harvard without my blood quantum and tribal enrollment. And, you know, I didn’t get interested in Native issues until later in life–I can’t say I would have been much of a contribution to the community. Except, you know, I would have: I can only imagine the path I would have taken if I’d gone to a better school and become involved with indigenous issues earlier in life. I can’t say I would have gone on to become some great activist, but I would have contributed in my own way, just as I have been later in life.

    Another thing played into my decision to not apply to better schools: I thought I hadn’t suffered enough. I didn’t understand what affirmative action was about; I thought it was about making up for past sins of the ruling white class, not about creating a well-rounded student body. I was deeply cynical about the whole thing. I didn’t see that having a middle-class suburban Caddo as a part of the environment at a top school might have been as educational, in a different way, as having someone from the reservation. I was buying into the idea that to be Native is to suffer–which, given so many horrifying statistics, is understandable. And I was severing the possibilities of my people just as much as severing my own potential.

  • Boozoojack

    An excellent issue to address. Higher Education does provide many opportunities and the struggle to maintain the values of our Native communities is constantly being challenged by those in the canon. It is a great moment for any of our youth that maintain those values instilled by our heritage and are mentored by those of us that have achieved at the colleges and universities. One of the issues that seems to get ignored is the “network” maintained by the mainstream. Sororities and fraternities are another form of “affirmative action” and provides those with those connections to access those routes to attain a seat in some of the colleges with the legacy system.

    • Ziggurat

      Yes, that’s a really good point. I’ve always been amazed that many of the people who argue against affirmative action as “unfair” have connections with fraternities/sororities. Those are networks based on privilege and prolonged access to a university setting.

  • lukebbuff

    Love this. Over the months of my college search, as a middle class, white student, I have had mixed feelings on these issues. Not just based on race, but all of the special treatment dfiffent groups receive in the admissions process. At first it seemed unfair that “merit” should be overlooked or mitigated by other outside factors. However, I have come to realize that it is a great thing for all of us. Firstly, I realzied that I have a similar benifit I never understood by being from a small, unpopulous, midwestern state. I also realized that merit is so much more the test scores and a list of activites. The unique social perspective of students with various backgrounds, the special talents of athletes and musicians, the pride that “legacies” have in their family alma-matter, and so on are all an integral part of the college experiance and what makes top college cmapuses so interesting, vibrant, and productive. Without all of these people college would not be the same. So no, you should not beleive you were admitted just beucase you were native, or another minority, an athlete, a low income student, or whatever other “hook” got you in to college. Simply be proud of your accomplishment and know that you were admitted beucase of the unique ansd amazing qualities that make you who you are, and what you will bring to your campus that makes it better. Be proud, do your best, and show up the naysayers :)

  • Jen

    What a wonderful message! I wish someone had said this to me when I was first entering college- but thankfully my university is very diverse and has a fairly active AIS group. But I hope this gets to some of the graduating seniors this year.

  • 10100111001

    awwwh, man. You shouldnt make a Mohawk Cry. Its not cool man. And I wish I had this when I went to college, or grad school.

  • Native grad

    I agree that Native students are not admitted to college simply because they are Native, and that it is wrong to undermine the accomplishments of Natives who are accepted to top schools. I am a Native student in graduate school and I graduated from a top 5 undergraduate university. I have worked so hard to get where I am today, and the other Natives I knew in college were equally deserving of their acceptance to my college/ current grad school.

    However, I disagree that it is not easier for Native students to be accepted to top schools, or that acknowledging this fact is necessarily harmful to Native students. I think we should embrace the fact that Natives (and other minority students) bring an incredible (but intangible) value to a student body – one that outweighs any GPA or test score.

    It is certainly not easy for a Native student to be accepted to a top school, but it isn’t quite as hard as it is for non-minority students, and statistical data supports this claim. Minority students (including Natives) who are accepted to top undergraduate and graduate schools have (on average) lower GPA and test scores than their non-minority peers. I certainly did, both in undergraduate and graduate school, and almost every Native I knew in college was the same. I understand that this is anecdotal evidence, but it underscores my point. There is a lot of solid, thoroughly collected data on the internet (especially for law and business school) suggesting that minority students are admitted to graduate schools with lower GPA and exam scores than their non-minority peers.

    Additionally, while some athletes, legacies, etc. may have an easier time being accepted to top schools, they make up a much smaller percentage of the student body than minorities. Schools like Harvard, Yale, and Stanford have a fairly high percentage of minority students (30-40% of student body). Athletes, legacies, etc. are rarely (if ever) listed in a school’s percentage breakdown of its acceptances, but I seriously doubt they make up more than 30% of any undergraduate population at a top school, so they are almost statistically insignificant. Thus, it is understandable why non-minorities who are not accepted to top schools feel that the admissions process is unfair when they look at admissions statistics and see that minorities are (on average) accepted with lower GPA/ test scores than non-minorities. The first thing they do is blame minorities, because the data shows a numerical discrepancy, plain and simple. Still, we shouldn’t hide behind data suggesting that athletes or legacies get “easy” acceptances in order to justify our own acceptances to top schools. Natives (and minorities in general) have a value that goes beyond what GPA and test scores suggest.

    Also, while minority students are certainly accepted to top schools in part because of well roundedness in intangible factors (talent, academics, extra curriculars, and personality), I’m sure that many non-diverse applicants are equally well rounded in those factors. We shouldn’t discount the application portfolios of non-minority students to justify the numerical discrepancy in minority acceptances. I think the small, but distinct difference between minority and non-minority applicants is that the minority applicants have unique cultural backgrounds, and top schools seem to prefer cultural background over other intangible factors like talents, academics, extra curriculars, and personality. And that isn’t a bad thing. Minority students bring so much to a student body. I learned as much from my black, latino, Jewish, Muslim, etc. friends in college as I did in the classroom. Maybe those minority students didn’t have the test scores of their non-diverse peers, but they were just as valuable to my education. This cultural “value” isn’t necessarily something a Native student works hard to attain – its a part of their life, so in that sense it is “easier” for a Native student to be accepted. But again, this isn’t a bad thing.

    I think it’s important for Native students to understand that they bring a valuable and unique cultural background to the academic environment at their university. To the recently admitted student: embrace your cultural heritage, and know that test scores and GPA were not dispositive factors in your acceptance. You are more valuable to your peers than numbers alone can show.

    • Indigenomics

      Thank you for this reply. It’s a very thoughtful response and I really appreciate hearing your viewpoint. Your note about cultural background being a strength in college learning environments is a good one. However, the tone of your last paragraph in particular and throughout the comment somehow struck me as adhering to an assumption that there aren’t many Native students who would have been as competitive due to low GPAs and test scores. I apologize in advance if I misread anything you said. But regardless, I think this is useful information to put out there.

      This is mainly the statement that I hope to complicate:
      “However, I disagree that it is not easier for Native students to be accepted to top schools, or that acknowledging this fact is necessarily harmful to Native students. I think we should embrace the fact that Natives (and other minority students) bring an incredible (but intangible) value to a student body – one that outweighs any GPA or test score. Minority students (including Natives) who are accepted to top undergraduate and graduate schools have (on average) lower GPA and test scores than their non-minority peers.It is certainly not easy for a Native student to be accepted to a top school, but it isn’t quite as hard as it is for non-minority students, and statistical data supports this claim.”

      When 11% of the Native population in this country has obtained their college degree, I think it’s largely inaccurate to say that it’s “easier” for Native students to be admitted to top institutions. Consider that <2% of the population in this country is Native and you get about <0.2% of folks who are Native AND have a college degree. When a small fraction of these students go to a 'top' college, then it just gets a little ridiculous to split hairs.

      As a Native educator who works with a wide variety of Native students on a national basis with their college applications every year, I can say that perhaps the landscape has shifted since you graduated from college. I say this because so many of the Native students I work with from all over the country who are currently applying to college would be extremely competitive even if they didn't claim a Native identity on their application. It's important to acknowledge this growth – the reality is that today's Native college applicants and students are not the same as they were 20 years ago, 10 years ago or even 5 years ago. They are much stronger and are in great part aided by the fact that a whole generation of college-going Native people have helped pave a road for them. Many students are now reaping the benefits of this and are much savvier students in the college search process. There are Native students who have 4.0 GPAs, strong testing and a plethora of extracurriculars under their belt. Are they on the rarer side? Yes… but they certainly do exist. The fact is that they wouldn't be getting admitted to schools with 6% overall admit rates (which have shifted greatly over the past 5 years) without being able to hold their own within the applicant pool at this point. If you look at the "average" admitted applicant (native or non-native) and compare them to five years ago, there is no telling how they would be read in this year's applicant pool at a "top" university or competitive institution.

      That being said, there is certainly a trend of lower test scores among Native students, which shouldn't be surprising since the ACT and SAT have both been critiqued heavily as culturally biased tests. For that and other reasons, many institutions don't rely heavily on them as a flat out assessment tool, but an instrument of measurement taken in a limited context. Average scores can vary greatly by region, what type of high school a student attends (independent v public), if they come from a first-generation household, a family's income level, a student's first language, etc., etc., etc. The list goes on. Colleges that use holistic review in their admission processes tend to be well aware of the variance and unreliability of test scores to indicate a student's ability to succeed. In short, if you didn't attend a great high school, didn't have test prep, don't live in a wealthy area of the country and have two parents who attended college, you are likely not to score as well on these tests on average… which says something about them: They are poorly designed. When a student scores very high or very low, that can be useful information on an application to indicate something – but when a student scores well relative to their region or high school, that can speak well of them. Every year, non-native and native students alike enter highly competitive colleges with lower test scores than the median or average test scores for that institution. And it is not a free pass, it's simply standard. That's not to say the median isn't the median, but if schools used just GPA and test scores to admit students, suddenly thousands of students who attended private boarding schools or independent day schools and spent thousands on test prep classes and tutors would make the majority of students admitted.

      As an individual who has worked in competitive admissions, the idea that, "top schools seem to prefer cultural background over other intangible factors like talents, academics, extracurriculars, and personality" is not really a clear or helpful statement. In fact, I would argue that there's no way to rank any of these parameters in any order or to divide them from one another within the admissions process. All students technically have a 'cultural background' and a 'personality' and it's important to know that a kid from north dakota presents a very different example of this than a student coming from the rural south or a student from the Upper East Side in Manhattan. When you add race, gender, sexual orientation, class, faith, region and personality on top of it all, it becomes near impossible to classify many of the students that come in based on just one, two or even three parameters. Competitive students are not JUST a minority student or JUST a strong athlete or JUST a scholar or JUST a muslim student. Teacher recs, personal essays and short answer questions on the application all paint a more developed picture of a student's personality – and that becomes a very important, if not central piece in the process. In fact, I would argue that among competitive institutions, if a student DOESN'T demonstrate aspects of their personality successfully in the application process that's when it becomes easy to disregard them in the application process, regardless of whatever background they may come from. That's not to say that being a Native person in the application process can't help one stand out – but it will rarely be the sole factor and may not even play a secondary role if the student doesn't highlight or speak to why being Native is important to them. Not only that, but many schools are not just interested if you 'check the box'. For these institutions, students have to actually discuss in their essays or application how they are informed and connected to and by their cultural identity. In many cases, it's simply not enough to check the box – often, there has to be a demonstrated connection to that heritage. This is even more the case in today's highly competitive admissions context.

      Finally going back to the quote above, I think if your first point is to be fully understood, it really needs to be plugged into a broader context. While it may be true (and this depends greatly on the institution you're talking about…) that Native students applying to SOME competitive schools may have a statistically higher admit rates among their non-native peers who applied to the same school, it is even more important to point out that the overall percentage of Native students applying to college from their true peer group of other 18 year-old Native students is going to be much smaller than the overall percentage of non-native students applying to college an any given institution's applicant pool. A college is pretty darn lucky if it sees 1 Native applicant out of every 200 applicants. For every Native student that applies to college and is successfully admitted, there can be and are dozens of our cousins and relatives that are unable to or didn't apply to college along with those that won't be admitted. For a Native student, to get into a competitive institution is to overcome tremendous statistical odds. So, while saying that it is 'easier' for Native students (or other underrepresented students of color) to get accepted into top schools than their non-native peers can appear true on the face, it disregards and is disrespectful to the fact that they have to first a survive a gauntlet of systemic hurdles that are placed before them (education in indian country really needs help) – and if they come out of that as strong students THEN there's a higher probability that they'll be admitted. Of course, this is a generalization – there are definitely Native folks out there who are outliers to our demographic and who have managed to create great conditions for their students to excel in and I really applaud those families. But for those students whose families haven't been able to move near a good school or create positive educational conditions for their students easily, it's actually much, much, much less likely for Native students to get into a good school or go to school at all.

      If you don't think athletes are statistically significant (around 30% at most institutions and that certainly is a significant number! if not, what is..?), then let's talk about income. Why is it that such a high percentage of the students at many of the top institutions in the country don't receive any form of financial aid (loans or scholarships)? A little over half the students at my alma mater could pay their entire yearly college costs out of pocket (about $45,000 per year at the time, which has since gone up). That was roughly 50% of the student body. Is it just a coincidence that so many upper class students happened to be admitted? I think not. These students received huge advantages on their pathway to college. What is true is that one can't reliably quantify these advantages or disadvantages on an individual level. Any admissions process comprises an imperfect system designed to evaluate hundreds or thousands of individuals – the key word being individuals.

      Anyways, just complicating some of what I heard in your response. My best to you and all the readers out there. And congratulations to all the Native students receiving good news out there – you and your families have more than earned it! The Native community and your own community is made stronger for it.

      • zhiishiib

        While I respect Native Grad’s experiences and his/her sentiment, I was frustrated by some of its larger implications. I didn’t know how to articulate what was bothering me though, so I really appreciate Indigenomic’s complication of the issue. worth the read!

        Also thank you for this post Adrienne. I had the same experience in HS when I got into college, and it was really rough. It makes me happy to know that my little cousins/everyone’s little cousins will have so much support!

      • Native grad

        Hi Indigenomics,
        Thanks for the thoughtful reply. You bring up more issues than I can tackle in a single comment, but I’ll try to respond to as much as I can.

        I should start by saying that most of the statistics I cite include all minorities, not just Natives. It is difficult to find any data that specifically covers admissions statistics for Native students, so based on my personal experience, and that of my friends from college, I’m assuming Native students have similar backgrounds (socioeconomic status, test scores, GPA, extracurriculars, interesting personality) as other minorities, for which there is ample data.

        Here are some sites you might check out:
        1) (this is a good site for law school statistics. Go to the “schools” tab and click the icon of a graph next to each school)

        Regarding your point that you have seen an upswing in grades/ test scores with students you work with: thats great! I went to a rural public high school and I had no idea whether my exam scores were competitive with other applicants when I was applying to schools. Your students are lucky to have you! My college counselor didn’t lift a finger for me when I was applying to schools, and I’m lucky I managed to get accepted anywhere with so little help from my teachers. You have to remember, though, that these students are only a few shining examples. Like any group of applicants, there are always going to be extraordinary outliers with 4.0 GPAs and 2400 SATs, but I’m talking about the AVERAGE of all minority students who are accepted to a specific school over their non-minority peers, not the high performers alone. Also, like you said in your comment, minority students with good test scores aren’t necessarily going to be accepted to top schools. They need to address their unique cultural background in the application (which you mentioned in your comment – a great point by the way), do sports, band, have a job, etc. to get accepted. Basically, for an applicant to be accepted, they need to be well rounded. But still, where you have a non-minority who is a track star, drum major, SAT master, and entrepreneur, and he/she is competing against the SAME minority applicant, but the minority also makes it clear in the application that he/she embraces his/her cultural background, the minority student will probably be accepted. There’s nothing wrong with this, but I think its important to address this point for what it is: cultural diversity gets students into schools, and I think its the tipping point in a lot of seemingly equal applications. Some see this as being unfair, but I don’t, and I think we agree on that. All minority (and Native) applicants who are accepted to top schools have great test scores, GPAs, and extracurriculars, but they also have unique cultural diversity, which seems to be very important to schools.

        You also mentioned that everyone has a cultural background, and you are absolutely right. I should have been more clear: I mean that schools are looking for especially UNIQUE cultural backgrounds. Given that less than 2% of the population is native american, and when we consider all of the different tribes throughout the U.S., a Native applicant has an obvious claim to uniqueness, and schools value that.

        Also, when I mentioned that my entrance exam scores and the scores of my friends were lower than average, I don’t mean that they were significantly lower. My test scores were in the 98-99th percentile of all U.S. test takers, and my minority friends did equally well, but when you look at the 25th and 75th percentiles at my university, I still fell close to the bottom 25% of applicants in terms of entrance exam scores, and this was only 5 years ago! My scores were not weak by any means, but they weren’t as strong as my non-minority peers, so SOMETHING must have gotten me in over non-minorities, and that’s my point (it’s my unique cultural background). In this sense, I think it really was “easier” for me to get into my school, at least on the surface like you said. I didn’t have prep school teachers in high school, or SAT/ACT tutoring, and I think schools acknowledged that as well. I didn’t have it as hard as most minorities. My parents were supportive of me and always pushed me, but you are right to say that under the surface it is MUCH harder for many minority students to get into top schools when you consider the tough backgrounds they come from.

        Oh, and my last point about legacies and athletes is that while those applicants may get into schools more easily than others, they make up a really small percentage of the school. I mean they make up LESS than 30%, and probably a lot less, for that matter. Denied applicants blame minorities because there is a seemingly obvious claim of unfairness when you look at the lower GPA and exam scores of accepted minorities vs. accepted non-minorities, especially when schools don’t publish admissions statistics for legacies and athletes like they do for minorities. Minorities are the scapegoat because they are the largest group of accepted students with a seemingly unexplainable “free pass.” And I think we both agree that this free pass idea is not true.

        I’m not sure what you mean about wealthy students, but I think we both agree that wealthy non-minority students have better preparation for college, so they don’t need an admissions bump to get accepted. Also, the fact that 50% of students at your alma mater (and high percentages at other top schools) were paying out of pocket doesn’t mean they could easily afford to pay 45k per year – it probably means the school couldn’t afford to give scholarship $$ to everyone. Its a sad truth about rising college tuition these days, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that large percentages of college students are rich and privileged. If anything it signifies that the college tuition market is pretty inelastic, but we are getting way off topic.

        Sorry to write so much, and again, thanks for your detailed comment. Its nice to have a good discussion on this topic. I have thought about it a lot over the past few years.

      • Doc

        “So, while saying that it is ‘easier’ for Native students (or other underrepresented students of color) to get accepted into top schools than their non-native peers can appear true on the face, it disregards and is disrespectful to the fact that they have to first a survive a gauntlet of systemic hurdles that are placed before them…”


        This is why affirmative action is good, not just for minority students, but for schools, and for the nation.

        Lets say I am out buying racing horses. I look at one who’s in top form. He’s been in training, he’s fit, he’s well-fed, he’s got a very skilled and talented rider, he runs like hell. He’s faster than another horse I look at, but not really by all that much. That second horse just came off rough pasture, he hasn’t been in training, his rider is poor-to-average. Unless I want to race tomorrow, I want the second horse. It’s a very good guess to figure that first horse is going as fast as he can go but the second hasn’t even begun to run.

        When the metaphorical training, riders, and feed are primary and secondary educational programs, teachers, tutors, and reasonably affluent homes and the horses are human students, it still works that way. When both start getting the more equal opportunities that being enrolled in the same university would give them, the disadvantaged one is likely to outpace the privileged one.

        Admissions aren’t about choosing the ones who are best now. It’s about choosing the ones who’ll take what your school has to offer and use it to make themselves into stars next year.

        It’s a guessing game, and guessing games can’t be really ‘fair’ and it’s smart to suppose that minority students who have so far succeeded well enough to even put in a showing against the privileged are gonna win laurels.

        If I had to pick my doctor when she was still in HS, I’d definitely go for the A- student who goes to the second-rate school, has to do childcare work for the family, and might very well be getting poorer grades than she deserves because of racism, rather than the A+ student with the private tutors and the top-notch school.

        (And check the box even if you feel like you had all the advantages, cause it’s good to have an edge, and it’s also pretty likely that as a Native, you’ve faced disadvantages that you couldn’t directly see. Certainly people pulled weird little crap on my Hawaiian housemate that they never would have tried on my white behind, and he thought some of it was just how all young guys get treated.)

    • Ceci Pipe

      30% actually is significant, anecdotal evidence is not evidence, etc. I disagree with the person below, that wasn’t very well thought out; especially since the OP said they work/ed in admissions. Their anecdotal evidence is greater than yours.

      You also missed the point of “affirmative action” as you put it. We have equality, where everyone is on an even point, and equity, which is how we get people to that point. We don’t want to get there for a cultural view point, it’s to move past centuries of repression which would manifest today in lower scores, possibly from lower income families, who have never had a single member of their family tree get to college. Hence the weighting to minorities, lower income families, etc.

      If someone who’s had less opportunity can come within cooee of someone who’s had a lot of help, then that person is going to be awesome.

    • Sporkfighter

      “I think we should embrace the fact that Natives (and other minority students) bring an incredible (but intangible) value to a student body – one that outweighs any GPA or test score.”

      I don’t think what minority students bring is intangible. I’ve been on a local religious college campus that is nearly all white, and I’ve been on campus at my very diverse public university, and the difference is clearly tangible. The first is an enclave and the second is part of the wide, messy world filled with music I don’t like, art I wouldn’t choose, and a vitality I’m glad I experienced. Being confronted by difference, being forced to reexamine our views and beliefs as they collide with those of others is how education differs from training.

  • Guest

    Thank you for writing this! You did a great job articulating this issue. I faced this same problem when I went to college.

  • Anonymous

    Adrienne, although it’s been a number of years since I’ve been through high school & college, your words are true and sadly the thinking of some narrow-minded people hasn’t changed since my college graduation in 1989. Like you I worked my butt off in school, actually enjoyed learning through all levels of school and I’m damn proud of my accomplishments. What saddens me today is the low number of students now graduating high school and my thinking is that many of them don’t get the encouragement, help, or hear often that they’re worthy enough and capable of so much more if they only had that much needed support. Reading your words are exactly what our students, children, our future generation of leaders need to read and hear. Meegwetch for your thought-provoking words…and I will be sharing your posts with those that need to hear it!

  • Anonymous

    I actually didn’t want to post my comment anonymously as that’s not my style when I truly support and believe in what I want to say; however I’m not all that sure about navigating the various options available to post my comment above…LOL

  • This is brilliant! Thank you for responding to the ambiguously ignorant out there pertaining to this subject with such graceful finesse. Keep being awesome!

  • Anishnabeque

    I love you for this. As an Odawa student graduating from the University of Michigan here in a few weeks, I felt/experienced all of this during my tenure here. Regardless of the fact that I got excellent grades in high school, was an active member of the musical and theatrical communities, and somehow managed to learn French on top of all that, I still get questioned as to how much is ‘paid for by the government’. No lie – the Michigan Indian Tuition Waiver enabled me to go to college, but I also received a scholarship to the tune of $10,000 a year for my high school accomplishments. Anyway, thank you SO MUCH for writing this! I’ll be passing this on to my friends and family. 😀

  • ndnpride

    Thank you for this article. I felt all of these things going through medical school, and I will pass this article along to my younger siblings, cousins,friends.

    I think I had many conversations with nice enough people who were raised in an environment that viewed Natives in a very negative way. I went to school with the children of those business owners who told my father he had to sit in the back room of a restaurant because he was Native, or wouldn’t even allow my aunt and uncle inside of a restaurant. This is Canada, I’m not even 30 years old. The history is still right in front of us and many people have not been taught the correct version.

    I finally am learning that there are some people that you can’t use logic with and perhaps at the end of the day, I am also guilty of bringing some emotion to the table.
    I had an opportunity to do something my grandparents were not allowed to and barely my parents. They were legally not allowed to enter university. They were not allowed to go to civil court. It was an emotional day for me to receive my MD with my grandparents-residential school survivors, sitting in the audience.

    I firmly believe I am making contribution back to First Nations people as a First Nations doctor, but it is hard for people who are not First Nations to understand what this means. No offense, but the chain of empowerment of having a role model in a family or community who has been beaten, robbed and stolen from (and these are literal if you understand residential schools and inter-generational trauma) is priceless.

    There is no way for someone to understand that if they were raised in an ignorant household and they don’t want to try to understand other cultures.

  • Ziggurat

    I’d like to take a step back from this for a second, because I think people on all sides of the equation, non-Native, Native, or any other race/ethnicity/geography, can get really aggressive about this issue. And with good reason. Two of the comments below, from Native grad and Indigenomics, more or less sum up my feelings about affirmative action. Yes, I do think it’s an important part of the college admissions process. Yes, however, I do think it needs to be transparent– and discussion needs to continue about who/how/why people get into a given college, and the challenges for all students before, during, and after college.

    That being said, I wanted to comment on the actual college admissions process. Looking at this post, the Jezebel post, and the related comment stream (on Jez), it’s obvious how entangled people get in the admissions process: things you would never say or do to friends, classmates, and students are suddenly par for the course. And why does this happen? Because the college admissions process turns people into box-checked statistics with little-to-no individuality. College admissions essays are a shade away from this, but, let’s be honest, my life and self-worth isn’t confined to a word count. In short, the admissions process blows, and is really unfair to every student involved. Affirmative action, which is a necessity, quite unfortunately, gets caught up in this whole mess.

    Ultimately, this sort of vitriolic admissions environment is just really, really bad for kids’ self-esteem. It doesn’t matter if you’re Native or not, acceptance/rejection from a college tears kids apart. More troublingly, it’s separating students, at the college level and below, who should, ideally, be going into university life together. Is it hurtful and unfair for a non-Native student to be angry at a Native student because of “affirmative action” politics? Yes, of course it is. However, *everbody* needs to reflect on the situation: anger and hostility, especially towards affirmative actions kids, is often a product of the larger admissions process: highschool students, with their gooey egos and fragile identities, become jealous and hurt. This continues at the college level. Students, teachers, and community members need to work together to help rectify this situation– blaming highschool kids, even when they’re hurtful, doesn’t address the larger problem of the nastiness of admissions politics.

    However, as awful as college admissions is (and that really does bear repeating), affirmative action absolutely needs to exist– why? The diversity of graduated professionals still leans heavily towards a white majority. My anecdotal experience…

    I went to Bowdoin College for undergrad, and am now at Harvard University for graduate school. (I’m mixed-race Native, but always check “other” because I have been comparatively much more privileged, and much less connected to my background.) The diversity at Bowdoin was a mixed bag– I felt like, while I was there, that there were very few students from my socio-economic bracket. Native students were even fewer. Relatively, Harvard, in my graduate program, is more diverse. However, in my department, there are only 11 or so spots per entering graduate class. In general, affirmative action has less to do with graduate admissions– graduate cohorts are composed of people who were highly successful as undergrads, share an affinity with the department, and have the same interests as the faculty. However, in my field, the numbers of PhD-holding black professionals or Native professionals is incredibly low when compared to white professionals. Why? Because they simply weren’t given the opportunity to enter undergrad programs that would lead to a PhD. And my field, which is a social science, really suffers from this discrepancy. Until the levels of working PhD holders starts to level out, affirmative action is an absolute must.

    • Ziggurat

      And yeah, I’d like to post as an addendum, beautiful post. The comments about vitriolic admissions communities, came mostly from the jezebel post where people were really angry. I’m sharing this with students, from affirmative action situations, who are having a really, really hard time adjusting to a lot of the jealousy and hate surrounding the admissions process.

  • From the Rez

    I still wonder why I was admitted into Cornell University. My ACT scores were low and I was unprepared academically coming from a reservation school. I dropped/failed out after a semester.

    • Charlotte86


  • Zachtshaw

    I have heard this story many times and Every time I hear it, I just smile to myself inside. It shows me that no matter how successful you are, no matter how hard you try being a native person in this world is simply like “crabs in a bucket….”Understanding that statement made me want to become a fish.

  • Calamity

    I was never not aware of my ethnicity,or the fact that, in the time I went to college, being native was a non-issue. My best friend was Hispanic. His paperwork, loans and grants, were taken care of by the school. Mine never were. He got the loans and grants that I didn’t. He made more money and had a lower GPA than I did. That was not him that did that. That was a school that gamed the system. WE never felt one way or another. Others did, and we both heard comments. In the end it made little difference. No one that goes through that system gets away unscathed. It is natural to assume that “they” got it easier. In fact, the only people that really did have it easier were the rich kids. Not their fault either, and they have their own baggage. In the end, just ignore it all and get to living. That honors the Native way to live. Mark S. Citizen Band Pottawatomie Nation.

  • Rebecca Polar

    Gets better every time! Thanks again – B

  • meanneighborlady

    I went to one of my state’s research universities. I wouldn’t change the experience I had at all except to wish that I had known how to access student services resources. When I was an undergrad, I felt like I had to do it all on my own, not because that’s what I necessarily wanted, but rather because it didn’t occur to me that those resources were for me too.

    My friends all assumed that I got in because of my background and said so freely. I didn’t think it was the case since I had the grades and activities in high school and statistically Native students were never mentioned. That said I was seriously out of my element in college. I struggled with some of my coursework my first year. No one else in my family had been through college and I never had an advisor. There was a dizzying array of courses to take and majors to choose.

    When I finished and decided upon graduate school, I went into student affairs because I wanted to be a resource for students who came after me and were confused and lost in the process. I wanted them to get the most out of college and not reach their senior year realizing they could have had a richer experience. I especially wanted to be there for Native students.