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Colleges focus on admission essays to replace affirmative action, but students say it’s not enough

The Hartford Public High School class of 2021 jumped and cheered as they streamed out of Dunkin' Donuts Park, diplomas in hand.
Tyler Russell
Connecticut Public
The Hartford Public High School class of 2021 jumped and cheered as they streamed out of Dunkin' Donuts Park, diplomas in hand.

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to ban race-based affirmative action in admissions, universities and colleges are placing a greater emphasis on student essays.

Students are being urged to share more information about their background and lived experiences, especially students of color.

The Supreme Court rolled back affirmative action in college admissions last month. The ban means students can no longer disclose their racial and ethnic identity. The decision has forced colleges and universities to go about creating a more inclusive environment through different avenues, such as students’ written essays.

Officials at the University of Connecticut (UConn), say they want to take a more holistic approach. Vern Granger, director of admissions at UConn, says to create a more diverse environment, the university wants to take everything into consideration.

Admission officers would rather read about how students’ life experiences played a role in shaping them into the person they are today, Granger said.

He said the essays should be genuine and reflect student’s personalities. Granger doesn’t want students to feel like they have to trauma-dump just to make their application stand out.

“We don’t want to put students in a situation where they feel like they’re forced to identify trauma or some significant obstacle and that’s the only way that they can talk about their lived experiences that’s gonna be valuable in the application process,” Granger said. “Majority of students, all these folks have lived experiences, and that's where we want them to reflect on.”

Most of all, college essays should tell a university what makes you who you are, he said.

Currently, UConn’s efforts include outreach programs to low-income neighborhoods in Bridgeport and Hartford, but some students think it's not enough.

“The process of engineering a truly holistic admissions process that doesn’t gamify experiences with discrimination or hardship requires an ongoing, equitable dialogue between the administration and students of color,” the editorial board of The Daily Campus wrote in an article.

“The UConn community must demand that its administration and board of trustees uphold an admissions process that upholds inclusion, eliminate legitimately unfair advantages such as legacy admissions and expand access in the form of affordability and investment in cultural centers and programs.”

Lesley Cosme Torres is an Education Reporter at Connecticut Public. She reports on education inequities across the state and also focuses on Connecticut's Hispanic and Latino residents, with a particular focus on the Puerto Rican community. Her coverage spans from LGBTQ+ discrimination in K-12 schools, book ban attempts across CT, student mental health concerns, and more. She reports out of Fairfield county and Hartford.

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