During the winter of 2013, we received our early college-application results. Fall of senior year up until the first of the new year had been a stressful and anxiety-filled time, as seniors completed applications hoping they would receive acceptance into at least one of their top college choices. When the rejections came, so did the ignorant comments. One of my classmates lamented, “This was the year of the minorities and women” to me and another student after he had been denied acceptance by his dream school. In that moment, I couldn’t help but feel like my own merit was being questioned as both a minority and woman who had just received acceptance into Harvard University.
This questioning did not end as the year continued. From overhearing students doubting that another black student deserved admission to Yale to having friends tell me that students were questioning my acceptance as well, I was beyond frustrated with the Bronx High School of Science and more than ready to graduate. Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, it did.
That spring, new Mayor de Blasio announced his plan to change the admission process of specialized high schools. A few months before, an anonymous confessions page for my high school formed online. While seemingly two unrelated events, the page was soon flooded with anonymous confessions—often beginning with “I’m not racist, but”—that expressed disapproval of de Blasio’s plan to remove the SHSAT, the standardized test for admission into the specialized high schools.
What my peer’s comments more or less amounted to was this: Black and Latinx students, who were underrepresented, did not get into these schools because they were not as hard-working and smart as their peers.
Four years later, these conversations around the SHSAT haven’t ended. Recently, de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza unveiled two new proposals. One, which will start next fall, will set aside 20 percent of seats for low-income students who were just below the cutoff and have them attend a Discovery program over the summer before beginning school. The second proposal, which requires approval by the State Senate in Albany, would fill 90 to 95 percent of the specialized-high-school seats with the top 7 percent from public middle schools. The other 5 to 10 percent would be filled with newcomers to NYC, private-school students, and students who did not meet the 7 percent cutoff. These proposals have elicited fierce opposition from the affected schools, their alumni groups, and parents.
“The test is the most unbiased way to get into a school,” Peter Koo, a City Council member in Queens, told The New York Times. “It doesn’t require an interview. It doesn’t require a résumé. It doesn’t even require connections. The mayor’s son just graduated from Brooklyn Tech and got into Yale. Now he wants to stop this and build a barrier to Asian-Americans—especially our children.” Ivy Hamlin, the parent of students who have attended specialized high schools, wrote to the Times: “Asians don’t ‘own’ their admissions, nor do they claim to. No, Asian students achieve all those admissions with hard work and dedicated preparation for the test. Some may not like the outcome of the test, but it is fair and it is objective.” The general tenor of these complaints revealed that parents were worried that, through this proposal, the very purpose of these schools—to be elite schools of academic rigor—will be diminished. In early June, various Asian-American groups, parents, and alumni protested de Blasio’s plans, accusing him of racism and penalizing poor Asian immigrants and their families.