UPrep Upper School students Teddy B. and Sofia P.-D. interviewed Director of College Counseling and Student Services Kelly Herrington (pictured above) while writing about the recent Supreme Court decision about affirmative action in college admissions.
College counselors adjust after the ban of affirmative action
First one, then two, three and four. Then 10, 20, 30. Within minutes, Director of College Counseling Kelly Herrington had received more than 120 emails. All of them from colleges expressing how much they value diversity and inclusion. It was just minutes after the news broke about the Supreme Court’s decision to end affirmative action in college admissions on June 29, 2023.
When the Supreme Court rejected affirmative action, a policy that allowed colleges to use race as a factor when accepting students in an attempt to diversify their classes, students and counselors worried about the implications.
“It was a tough day,” said Cris Monroy, associate director of college counseling. “Even if you see it coming it’s disappointing.”
For months, college counselors around the country had been preparing their students for the decision to be overturned.
“I had the honor of going into the civics classes and talking about the history of affirmative action,” Herrington said.
College counselors are working hard to show students that race was only a small part of whether or not they were admitted to a school.
“I think erroneously a lot of times college students believe that certain factors play an outsized role,” Herrington said. “So a lot of the work that we’ve done is tried to explain how this fits into all the other pieces of the application.”
Even with the overturning of affirmative action, students can still write about their race, and are often encouraged to.
“Their perspective is what matters; students get in and become part of these communities based on their stories,” Monroy said.
Britten Nelson, associate director of college counseling, adds to this idea of student identity being a part of the admissions essay. “If a student’s lived experience is still important to them and expressing their beliefs and their values,” Nelson said, “they should still write about that. And if that happens to involve race or ethnicity or something about their cultural background, they should write about that.”
With the overturning of affirmative action, the legality of legacy admissions is being put into question as the policy also affects college admissions. “I think where it troubles me is if it is the super, super, selective places and they are taking the wealthy applicant or the child of a high-powered alum, over other students who might be more academically qualified,” Nelson said.
Nelson believes it is unlikely for legacy to be outlawed.
“I don’t see the Supreme Court taking this on as a thing, but I see individual colleges making statements against it, recognizing that it has a perceived and I think, rightfully so, idea that it’s misrepresenting students,” Nelson said.
While students might be worried about whether legacy plays a role in admissions, Nelson assures that legacy plays a much smaller part than it seems. “I think if there is some sort of legacy admission game going on, I think it’s only on the margins,” Nelson said.
Students value diversity and wish to achieve it. “Ensuring that colleges represent America and that the student body at colleges represents America,” ninth-grader Orrin S. said. “I think that would be the eventual end goal.”
A Q&A WITH EDITOR-IN-CHIEF TEDDY B., 11TH GRADE, AND REPORTER SOFIA P.-D., 10TH GRADE, From The Puma Press
How did you come up with this story idea?
Teddy: It started with an idea I had for an Op-Ed about classism. During the pitch meeting, we lumped it together with other stories, specifically affirmative actions. Our advisor, Scott Collins, pitched the legacy part of the story. During the reporting process, Sofia and I decided to cut the part about classism because we thought it didn't fully fit with the idea of affirmative action and legacy.
Sofia: With the overturning of Roe v. Wade last year, I began thinking that articles about Supreme Court decisions were topical. I definitely thought we should write about affirmative action.
What surprised you while working on this article?
Teddy: I was surprised when we asked the college counselors about legacy admissions. I assumed that since a lot of UPrep graduates attend prestigious colleges and [a percentage of] our parents went to prestigious colleges, that a decent number of kids would get into college due to legacy admissions. But I found out that rarely happens for UPrep students.
Sofia: This was my first time being a journalist. I learned a lot about writing and the process itself. I didn’t know a ton about the topic, so I was learning as I was writing.
How did you come up with the lede, or story introduction?
Teddy: [Director of College Counseling] Kelly told me about the numerous emails he got as the news broke. The fact that colleges reaffirmed their commitment to diversity stuck with me and I thought it was important to the story. I thought it would make for a good narrative lede—emails flooding in. It was the first thing I wrote, and I wrote it in 5 minutes.
What creates an ideal interview?
Teddy: It starts with being prepared: knowing who you are talking to, what you are talking about, and planning the questions. You have to be flexible. If you have 20 questions about x, but the interviewee goes off on a tangent, you must be willing to throw away the questions.
Sofia: It helps to see where the person is going with the answers to the questions. They probably know more about the topic, so if their answer sparks a question, then ask that question.
What did you learn while working on this piece?
Teddy: I enjoyed learning about the Supreme Court. I had an interview with a 9th grade student, Orrin S. He is extremely well read, and he taught me a lot about the Supreme Court.
Sofia: I did a lot of background research on affirmative action and its history. I learned that affirmative action dates to the 1950s. So many changes have happened in so many different states, and that ultimately led to this [Supreme Court] decision.