Reflective Essay – Anger, Frustration, and Helplessness

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Hieu “Hugh” Nguyen

Anger, Frustration, and Helplessness

Before I came to Trinity, racial issues had not come to my mind. I grew up and lived in Vietnam in 16 years, where there were only Vietnamese. In one year and a half in an American boarding high school, I lived and studied with many people from different races. However, I was never aware that I was a minority, and never felt out of place. During lunch or dinner, people from different races sat together. I had great friendships with a lot of white, Hispanic, and African students. Regarding social class, I’m from the lowest class in my home country because neither of my parents had jobs due to their serious health conditions. I was surrounded by privileged kids in high school, however, I did not  feel uncomfortable at all. We talked and discussed about almost everything on Earth. Unlike what I expected, a year and a half in an American  high school did not prepare me well enough to face the cultural shock in Trinity College. I experienced many signs of racism and classism on Trinity’s campus right in the first week of school. Taking the “Color and Money” seminar with the hope that it would help me build skills and strengths to fight against racism or classism on campus, I was a bit disappointed. Though I have gained tremendous amount of knowledge about race and social class, the knowledge does not do anything but raises fear, helplessness, and anger inside me.

I fear Trinity College. Yes, even though Trinity is the school that I am so grateful for because I am on a full ride, I fear this school! Being an international student who cannot afford a cent for a college education, I am well aware how much one’s socioeconomic status affects his chance of being offered admissions to any college. However, the simulation of the college admissions process that the class conducted really paralyzed me. I was totally stunned at how a school considered as “generous” like Trinity could have such a poor financial aid budget: $70,000 for 15 applicants (Round 4: the F-round, 2013). Thus, the school does not promote the idea of meritocracy, and so does any other school that has similar or lower budget than Trinity’s. I fear for the future of thousands of low-income college applicants out there, including US citizens and international students, who dare to dream big, who are brave enough to believe in the American dream, would be turned down by the less academically qualified, less motivated, and less intellectually curious but more wealthy ones. I’m angry and disappointed at most American colleges as they really are the opposite of what many international students think. American colleges are not educational equalizers.

Even for low-income kids who are lucky to get full financial aid to go to college, like me, we still struggle to fit in the social life at our colleges. One of the class’s books, “Paying for the Party”, describes how students of very different social classes go through very different experiences in college. For a low-income kid being trapped in a hall full of party kids, like me, it is a nightmare. I don’t have the money to transfer to another school like the way many isolations in “Paying for the Party” do. The book made me question “is my life at Trinity a trade-off for receiving a full ride, for daring to pursue my dreams?” The sadness inside me boils whenever I think about the seminar. The class helps students to have a deeper understanding of the life of low-income students (and lives of students from different social classes) in college, but it neither teaches how to make their lives less unbearable, nor intends to spread the word so that everyone on campus can know about the life of isolations. What is the point of knowing all these stuff but doing nothing about them?

In terms of race, the class does help me to understand more about racism and many daily signs of racism on campus. There are not only easily observed signs like people associating with those who are from the same race or class, but also under-the-surface signs. For instance, the interview project that the class conducted with Trinity’s sophomores confirms that clubs that are meant to promote multicultural interactions on campus have been doing the opposite. This is opposed to what Adolfo Abreu writes in his letter. These clubs, though theoretically would be “open to all those interested in the culture that the organization represents” (Abreu), actually are places for only people of the same race to hang out together.

Tatum’s racial development theory is quite helpful. It helps explain a lot in why there is a lack of multicultural interaction on Trinity’s campus. Based on the racial development theory, many students are in the emersion stage, which is other races than one’s own become irrelevant, and people only hang out with those of the same race. I see that multiracial interactions only increase when the number of students in the internalization stage of Tatum’s theory increases. However, as Tatum suggests, friendship beyond racial boundaries is possible, however that only happens when there are White kids who are ready to deal with minorities in terms of self-definition (Tatum 77). This answers Adolfo’s point about “Why do all the White Kids Sit Together?” Until the white kids really reach out and willing to be friends with non-white students, the number of students in the internalization stage will remain the same and so will the limited number of multiracial interactions at this school.

However, neither the seminar nor the school really tries to tackle racial issues on campus. This saddens me most. The interview conducted by the class shows that many students are well aware of racial and social tensions to some extent, but they are not likely to discuss about these topics in public. For instance, Michael whispered to his interviewer “Mather. Where people sit” and he tried to not speak out the name of the side that he sat whenever he goes to Mather (which would be “minority”) (Michael 3). In addition, Trinity College Confidential page, like Adolfo points out, is mostly about hooking up, partying, drugs, appearance. Posts about these topics get the most “likes” while posts about racial issues are nowhere to be found. There are very few students who are courageous enough to step up and talk about it. Sadly, they are often shooed away. For example, one student in our class who raised her voice about a racist joke made by other Trinity students on Facebook was verbally attacked. I feel extremely helpless. Even if I made some comments on Facebook to help her, the ignorant kids would not have listened to me anyway. If people like her who has the courage to step up are treated disrespectfully like that, who would even dare to fight against the racial tension on this campus? We students are powerless in trying to do that. Adolfo presents many insightful thoughts in his letter, but how many people have read his letter thoroughly? And how many of those who read it have really changed their racist minds and behaviors? I bet that number is less than the number of fingers on a human body. Not all students are forced to read Adolfo’s letter, so it is not likely that the most racist kids know and will ever know of his letter. The same problem happens to Trinity Tripod. There have been inspiring posts on Tripod about racial issues. For example, there were two written by students on the December 3rd issue. But the problem is how many students, and even faculty, really read Tripod? This is why the college’ administration needs to do something, because we students alone do not have enough power to change this whole racist system. A small action like requesting every student to read Adolfo’s letter would be undeniably beneficial, however the school has not done it, or has not come up with this idea? The seminar does not help, either. Like what I mentioned about social class, what is the point of knowing all these racial stuffs, then do nothing about it? Sometimes, knowledge without actions is useless. Sometimes, I even wish that I had never taken this course, so that I can be like my friends, who don’t know much about the racial and social tensions at Trinity and never have these feelings of powerlessness, anger, and frustration.

Please! Those who have power at Trinity please do something to really tackle racial and social issues on campus! I beg you! I’m sure there are students like me, who constantly seek for an opportunity to fight against racism and classism at this school. Once you trigger the fight, we all would join in the fight. I will definitely devote myself for it, because I cannot bear to see racism and classism happen at my home anymore!

Works Cited

Armstrong, Elizabeth, and Laura Hamilton. Paying for the Party: how College Maintains Inequality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013. Print.

Dougherty, John. Round 4: the F-round for Financial aid Evaluations. Color and Money Admissions Simulation Data, Trinity College, Fall 2013.

Provost, Kerri. Trinity Student Offers Suggestions for Bridging Town-Gown Chasm. Web log post. Real Hartford. WordPress, Nov 26, 2013.

Tatum, Beverly. Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? and Other Conversations About Race. New York: Basic Books, 2003. Print.

Interview analysis essay

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Hieu “Hugh” Nguyen


Prof. Dougherty


“C+” for Diversity in Trinity College

            Race and social class are always intriguing and complex concepts of society. The First- Year Seminar class (FYSM) has been learning different racial and social class theories to try to understand more about these concepts and their applications in college life. There are three theories, two of which are about race, that were taught to the class: Tatum’s racial identity development, Omi’s racial formation , and Armstrong and Hamilton’s social class and organizational analysis. Tatum’s theory develops different phases that every student has and will eventually go through. Omi’s theory states that race is unstable and cannot be determined by physical traits but by social and historical aspects. Armstrong and Hamilton’s theory is about how students in different social classes experience different college pathways. The class’s study demonstrates that, at Trinity, both financial aid and non-financial aid students are equally aware that non-financial aid students have greater options in extracurricular and social activities. The study also conveys that Trinity students commonly use appearance as a main factor to judge one’s racial and social status. Thirdly, the study proves that social class greatly affects one’s perception of racial barriers, which is opposite to what many people think. Fourthly, the study reveals many signs of racial and social isolation on Trinity’s campus. In addition, these findings closely link to two theories, the racial formation theory and the social class and organizational analysis.

           To investigate this topic, our seminar conducted an interview-based study of students’ perceptions of race and social class at Trinity. Our interview guide posed ten open-ended questions and three demographic questions that explored topics, such as personal awareness, social interactions, and other students’ assumptions regarding racial and social class differences at Trinity. The Office of Institutional Research and Planning provided our professor with a stratified random sample of 55 sophomores from the Class of 2016, categorized by race (white or non-white) and first-year financial aid status (receiving or not receiving). Our professor sent personalized email invitations to this group, and assigned each of us to conduct an interview with all who responded and agreed to participate. The typical interview lasted about ten minutes, and was transcribed by the interviewer. The final sample consisted of 18 interviews: 9 students who received financial aid (3 white and 6 non-white), and 9 students who did not receive financial aid (5 white and 4 non-white). All names are pseudonyms and personally identifiable details have been masked, in accordance with our research ethics confidentiality agreement approved by the Trinity College Institutional Review Board.

          Many people would believe that compared to non-financial aid students, financial aid students are more aware that affluent students have more range of extracurricular activities and social options than students on financial aid. Social options here refer to activities like eating out at a restaurant, traveling, going to a frat party, becoming a member of a fraternity or sorority, etc…However, our study of Trinity sophomores revealed that both financial aid and non-financial aid students are equally aware that non-financial aid students have greater options in extracurricular and social activities. Out of 18 interviews that the class conducted, four out of nine financial-aid students and five out of nine non-financial aid students mentioned that wealthy students at Trinity are involved in more extracurricular activities and/or social options than students in lower classes. For instance, participant Luisa when asked about how social class has been a daily factor to her life, pointed out that there were friends who could go out for dinner or go to a big city on every weekend while she could not do that. But she also stated that she did not know whether or not she should pay the money to join in a sorority, and she acknowledged that students from lower classes had to work on campus and thus they rarely had the options of doing what her and her friends did (Luisa 6-7). What Luisa said closely ties to Armstrong and Hamilton’s theory about social class. That theory of social class and organizational analysis explains due to social class, students from different socioeconomic backgrounds, as Luisa observed, experienced different things in college and followed different college pathways. Thus, what Luisa’s friends do imply that they are from upper middle class and so they follow the party pathway, while Luisa and other students like her seem to fit in the “wannabe” category who tries to fit in to the party pathway. Also that the students who have to work come from the middle or working class and thus they follow the class mobility pathway.

          One common belief is that one’s appearance does not have anything to do with they are treated by others. However, our study revealed that appearance, like physical traits and clothes, is the main factor that makes up the impression regarding one’s social status and race, and thus, appearance decides how others judge an individual. 12 out of 18 students reported a problem that involved the use of appearance to misjudge one’s racial or social status. Seven of them elaborated that their appearances caused other Trinity students to misjudge their social statuses. Appearance includes physical traits and clothes. Let’s consider clothes first. Four students (Andres, Yvonne, Abe, and Kaylie) conveyed how clothes and accessories on one’s body could create an illusion of one’s social class. For instance, Yvonne pointed out how people treated her differently based on what she wore. She said ”…when my hair is nice and when I am dressed fully…people hold doors open for me, people say hi when I smile at them…, or people just speak even if they only see me like if we see each other often but we’ve never been formally introduced, people speak, they smile or they wave. If …my hair is not done or if I’m wearing sweatpants…or something…that does not look name brand…people…are less likely to hold doors open for me…less likely to speak to me…” (Yvonne 20). This undoubtedly demonstrates how clothing is like an automatic electrical switch that turns on and off indicators of social class. When it turns on, which means a person wears brand clothes, the individual’s social class is assumed as upper-middle class or higher, which makes other people treat the individual very nicely; when the switch turns off, which happens when the clothes don’t look fashionable or not so well put together, the individual’s social class is assumed as middle class or lower, which leads to the very indifferent, if not impolite, manner that other people have toward the individual.

            While these four students were focused on the clothing aspect of appearance, three other students (Kirsten, Fred, and Alice) highlighted the other aspect of appearance, which is physical traits. These students expressed their frustrations of how other people used their physical traits to assume their social class to treat them accordingly. Kirsten mentioned a situation when someone automatically assumed she had a lot of money just by looking at her, but actually Kirsten came from the working class (Kirsten 16). Fred’s story elaborated a similar idea: his coaches on his sports team, based only his appearance, interacted with him in the way that he felt “like I’m from more of a lower class family” (Fred 22). Alice’s case was even more extreme. She expressed her very hostile attitude toward a Trinity staff member who, according to Alice, assumed that Alice came from a very wealthy family by using Alice’s appearance (white, blonde hair) as an indicator.

          Our study also demonstrated how appearance, not only heavily misinterprets one’s social class, but also confuses one’s race. 5 of the 12 students who have not been mentioned in the previous  paragraphs (Luisa, Juan, Victoria, Ruby, and Abby), all shared the same concern about how race cannot be defined based solely on appearance. Luisa was confused because many people got her race wrong: they thought she was Indian or African-American, while her race was actually Hispanic (Luisa 10). Those people did not get her race correct because they only used her skin as an indicator. This problem does not only happen to Luisa whose looks are different from the stereotype of a race, but also occurs to students who are like, as Juan said, “oreo”-who looks black but is actually white internally (Juan 6). One paradigm is Victoria, who was originally Asian but had been raised in a white family. This kind of problem that happens to the five students can be solved by Omi’s theory about racial formation. The main reason that causes confusion in race is that a lot of people have used physical traits to determine one’s race. If the racial formation theory is applied, these people would know that race is not a matter of biological traits but is measured by social aspects. Thus, if people had known about this concept of race in Omi’s theory, they would have looked more into one’s life before trying to determine his or her race. Therefore, these five students’ problem conveys how important and necessary the racial formation theory is, and it urges everyone to learn about this theory. More broadly, the 12 students in general convey the idea of Omi’s racial formation and the parallel theory about social class formation. One should never judge another’s racial or social status based on that person’s appearance.

            While many may argue that one’s social class does not have anything to do with one’s perception of racial barriers, our interviews confirmed the opposite of this notion. When asked how race has been a factor in the life of the participants, out of 10 non-white students, five out of six  financial aid students were highly aware of racial barriers, while only two out of four non-financial students realized how deeply race influenced their lives on campus. Thus, the connection between race and social class is much closer than people often think. Both of these groups were students of color, however most of the financial aid students were ranked “High” in terms of perception of racial barriers, while only half of the non-financial aid were ranked “High”. This demonstrates that even though students of color may all encounter racial issues on campus, those in middle class or lower recognize the racial barriers more quickly and react to them more dramatically. Thus it can be concluded the higher the socioeconomic status of an individual is, the less likely he or she will be able to recognize and react strongly to racial barriers. This also applies to white students. After a close reading of the transcripts of all the interviews, the writer found that there were two special white students who differed from the rest of the interview participants. The other seven white students, and the nine non-white students, though they had different levels in perception of racial barriers, were all aware that racial barriers exist on Trinity’s campus to some extent. However, these two guys (namely, Jim and Steve) had absolutely no awareness of racial barriers on campus, or in other words, these two never noticed any racial issues on campus. For instance, Steve answered very shortly: “no” to all questions about race and its affect on his life at Trinity (Steve 44). Both Jim and Steve have high socioeconomic status, as Jim described his family as “well-off” (Jim 27) and Steve stated that his father was in finance and his family was in “good shape” (Steve 44). From these examples and numbers, one can see how much race and social class relate. Social class acts as a deciding factor that determines one’s ability to recognize and react to racial matters. The higher one’s social class, the less likely he or she will recognize and react to issues that involve race on campus. In addition, this pattern also suggests that future studies about race should take socioeconomic status into account, instead of trying to isolate race and social class.

             The interviews conducted by the class also confirmed the existence of isolation in daily life at Trinity. For instance, three students mentioned the exact same thing though they were interviewed at different times and they did not know each other. Michael, Luisa, and Kirsten stated that Mather Hall was divided into two sides, one of which was the minority side. This separation  makes some students feel really uncomfortable, particularly when it comes to the question of where to eat. Kirsten, as a minority and an athlete, expressed her confusion and pointed out that the division at Mather ruined her meals (Kirsten 18). Outside Mather, there were a lot of signs of isolation on campus. One sign is that people only associate with people from the same social class or race. For instance, Victoria noted how having a car on campus defines who to hang out with (Victoria 24); Abe stressed on how before coming to Trinity he never cared about social class and that people hang out with others from the same social class (Abe 45); and Kaylie noticed that black people tend to hang out together on a daily basis (Kaylie 36). But the more worrisome problems are under the surface. After a close reading of all the interview transcripts, the writer found two quite intriguing patterns. The first thing is that even though many students noticed signs of isolation and separation due to race and social class, students were afraid to talk about them or discuss them with their friends. One epitome is Michael. He whispered to his interviewer “Mather. Where people sit” and he tried to not speak out the name of the side that he sat whenever he goes to Mather (which would be “minority”) (Michael 3). His action proved that he was afraid. What Michael did during his interview also gave the impression that talking about racial issue is something bad. If students like Michael do not dare to publicly discuss these isolation problems, these problems at Trinity will never be tackled and never ended. The second alarming thing is that many solutions that Trinity has tried to promote such as inter-racial interaction have not working properly. One paradigm is minority clubs. During her interview, Andres pointed out that there are people in minority clubs like LVL and MOCA who “are negative towards the social division and…have negative ideals” toward people from other races (Andres 14). This links to what one of the writer’s friends (who is African-American) said about P.R.I.D.E. (short for Promoting Respect for Inclusive Diversity in Education), that the program had mostly black people. Thus, clubs that are meant to promote interactions and to build understanding among students from different racial backgrounds have been doing the opposite. If these club members only associate with people from their own race and are taught by older members to view people in other races negatively, how on earth will the members ever dare to reach out to talk to other students from different races. This issue of minority clubs also conveys that Trinity is not as diverse as it is advertised on its viewbook and website. It is just like the concept that Juan brought up, “oreo”- Trinity appears to be diverse on the outside, but actually is not that diverse inside, as people from one race or social class tend to isolate themselves from those from other races or social classes.

                Overall, many interesting patterns were found in the interviews conducted by the FYSM “color and money”. These patterns help students have a deeper view about race and social class as well as racial and socioeconomic issues in college life. Furthermore, these patterns point out that Trinity’s student body is not as diverse and open-minded as it is advertised to be. Many students judge others’ racial and social status based on appearance. Many treat others based on race or social class. Wealthy students are less likely to recognize and react to racial tension on campus than less affluent students; those who are well aware of racial and social issues are afraid to openly talk about them. Many associate with only people from the same race or social class. Student clubs that are meant to promote diversity have not been working properly. These signs of racial and socioeconomic tension at Trinity are very likely to last for a very long time. Thus, it is necessary for college administrations and students to tackle these issues immediately, instead of advertising how great the student body is on paper to attract more applicants.

Works Cited

Armstrong, Elizabeth, and Laura Hamilton. Paying for the party: how college maintains inequality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013. Print.

Lee, Stacey. Unraveling the “Model minority” Stereotype: Listening to Asian American Youth. New York: Teachers College Press, 1996. Print.

Omi , Michael, and Howard Winant. Racial Formation in the united States: From the 1960s to the 1990s. Second . New york: Routledge, 1986. Print.

Exercise E- Dane

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Among all of the White students, Dane is one intriguing factor. He makes a quite significant jump in his developmental stages. Before coming to the event, he is in the disintegration stage. The evidence is that he admits he and his friends used the word “nigger” at a little name calling event, but “nobody openly admits it. No body” (Reid et al, 22:21). Thus, he is well aware of racism and he knows that he benefits from it because he knows he will never be called “nigger”. This is paired with the disintegration stage in Tatum’s book, which is “marked by a growing awareness of racism and white privilege as a result of personal encounters in which the social significance of race is made visible”(Tatum, 96).Dan Ray 2

On the first day of the camp, after listening to many opinions from other students from different racial backgrounds, Dane states that “I’m responsible for my action. Ok?” (Reid et al, 24.53), but he claims that “there is no way I can step back and correct that” (Reid et al, 25.14). His voice sounds discomfort and angry. His statement and his voice suggest that he wants the students of color to view him as an individual and not to judge him just because he is White. Tatum would interpret this as reintegration stage, as one source of the discomfort that Whites have in this stage is “from the frustration of being seen as a group member, rather than as an individual”, (Tatum, 102).

In the end of the camp, Dane appears to be at pseudo-independent stage. He talks to one black girl and really listens to her story about her dad watching his friend dying on Christmas. He also expresses his guilty feeling toward one of his friend, Carlos, “I would never take my friend Carlos to my grandparents’ house, and you know it’s difficult, because I go over to his grandparents’ house all the time” (Reid et al, 45:17). This demonstrates that he recognizes the problem of racism and he attempts to associate with the people of color. However, he does not seem like he know what what to do to improve racial problems. Therefore, it is undoubted that he is at pseudo-independent stage.


                                                                 Work Cited:

1) Reid, Frances, Sharon Wood, Sarah Cahill, Michael Chin, Stephen McCarthy, Deborah Hoffmann, and Mary Watkins. Skin Deep. Berkeley, CA: Iris Films, 1995.

2) Beverly Daniel Tatum. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?Basic Books, 2003.

Hugh’s Persuasive Essay – Class matters

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Hieu (Hugh) Nguyen


Prof. Dougherty

Oct 1st, 2013

Persuasive essay

This essay was assigned to be written from the perspective of a Class matters advocate, and does not necessarily represent the views of the author.

             In a month, the first year seminar class conducted a simulation of an admission process, in which students were admissions officers and tried to bring three applicants to The College’s campus out of 15 applications. Among the three enrolled students, there was one student who would pay the costs in full (Caitlin Quinn), one student who would pay very little ($3933, Daniel Juberi), and one whose amount of expected contribution would be in the middle ($43276, Jazmine Hope-Martin)1. These differences in the amount of money to pay for The College made the the entering class seem socioeconomically diverse, however, the results were only due to chance and the balance in wealth is not likely to happen again in the future. Because certain people happened to enroll and others happened to decline, we ended up with class diversity but if we use the same system again, the results will be worse. So, though the admissions process was legal, the outcome neither reflected a best possible entering class nor promoted equal education. The two main reasons are the rating system and the low budget. The rating system are unfair for students with low socioeconomic status because many aspects that the system gives points to are affected by social class; the low budget forced our admissions team to hesitate when admitting low income students.

              Let’s begin with the holes in our rating system. The rating system give points to students based on these four factors: academics, extra-curricular activities, legacy, and diversity. At first glance, before the F-round, it appeared that low-income students and wealthy students were on an equal standing, as the one who has higher total scores than others will be admitted, regardless of his/her social class. However, if we give it more insightful look into it, it appears that academics and extracurricular activities are deeply affected by class.

               The participants of the simulation rated each applicant’s academic strength based on many factors. Some major factors were: standardized scores, grades, course curriculum, and (to some applicants) class rank. Each of these components is affected by socio-economic class to some degree. In term of standardized scores, rich kids score higher than underprivileged students, because the richer ones have more resources to prepare for the tests. With money, affluent parents can easily pay SAT prep courses or hire SAT tutors for their kids. In her article named “SAT scores and family income” in the New York Times, Catherine Rampell used College Board’s SAT scores in 2009 to analyze the relationship between SAT scores and family income. The charts imply that the higher the income of a family is, the higher SAT score its kid can get. The author observes that “On every test section, moving up an income category (the difference between two closest income levels is $10000) was associated with an average score boost of over 12 points.”2 Thus, the difference in total SAT score between a student whose family earn $20,000 a year and another one whose family earn more than $200,000 a year is 360 points – a number that can change the whole impression of an admissions officer toward a student’s academic strength. In addition, according to the “Advantage” graph from the infographic “Affluent Students Have an Advantage and the Gap is Widening”3, one can see only 26 percent of the poorest students who graduated college have above-average test scores, while the richest kids whose scores are below average (30 percent of the richest kids) still get college degrees. These studies suggest that if there are two students in two opposite social classes who have the same exact SAT scores, the one who is in lower class has shown more determination and hard works in preparing for the SAT as he has less resources than the more privileged one. Another case is when two students have slightly different SAT scores and the rest of their academics are the same, it does not necessarily means the one that has higher score is academically better. However, due to our numerical rating system, the kid who has higher SAT score will surely have higher rating in academics.

             Others main factors that determine one’s academic strength can also be altered by social class as well. For example, take a look at the grades of applicants from private school and public school. Private schools have individualized attentions, which means students have more opportunities to spend time one-on-one with teachers, therefore they tend to get higher grades than those who in public schools. One evidence for this statement is Gamoran’s research named “ Student Achievement in Public Magnet, Public Comprehensive, and Private City High Schools”. The data in Table 4 shows that students attending nonreligious private high schools score higher than those in public comprehensive schools and in public magnet schools in all these four subjects: math, science, reading, and social studies4. Speaking of rigorosity of one’s curriculum, AP and honors courses vary from each school, but generally a student in a higher socioeconomic class will have a more rigorous course load. This is shown in Joshua Klugman’s research named “How Resource Inequalities Among High Schools Reproduce Class Advantages in College Destinations.” He measured families’ socioeconomic status (SES) based on parents’ education levels, jobs, and family annual incomes when students were in tenth grade. One of the date shows that “[a] standard deviation increase in SES increases AP subject-taking by .16 courses” and “[s]chools’ AP subjects…have significant benefits for students’ chances of enrolling in more selective colleges (Model 2A)”5. Thus, from all of the above, wealthy kids obviously receive higher academic ratings than those low-incomers who are actually on the same academic level with them, but that fact does not show on the rating system.

              Not only heavily correlating to academics and test scores, class also deeply influences one’s extra-curricular activities. Wealthy families invest in arts, music lessons, sports, and travel for their kids,. They use money to shape their kids as ideal applicants for colleges. In Klugman’s research “How Resource Inequalities Among High Schools Reproduce Class Advantages in College Destinations,” the data indicate that a richer family will have children with more extracurricular activities6. He also shows that “Students who attend private schools have higher levels of extracurricular activities”7. Hence, students whose families are in higher socio-economic class have great advantages in extra-curricular activities. Their parents pay money for their music and dance lessons, guide them in playing sports at a young age, and pay travel fees for them to go to African or South American countries to help the local people (which is dubious, as some students take the trip just to put it on their resumes). The seminar’s simulation applicant files help to partly prove that notion. It reveals in Angelica Parker’s letter of recommendation from her guidance counselor that her parents had gotten involved to help her become a decent swimmer. They transferred her to the new school to “give her an opportunity to swim on a varsity team while still in grade school”8. Her family is wealthy, and if her mother had not had a serious disease then Angelica would not have applied for financial aid. If Angelica had not been transferred back to the school she is currently attending by her parents, she would have stayed in the local high school which would never leave her enough time for outside activities and Angelica’s name would not have appeared on the Athletic Director’s mail to the Dean of Admissions9.

              Besides affecting criteria like academic and extra-curricular activities, socio-economic issues also affect low-income students in various other ways. In his article “Low-Income Students and the Socioeconomic Composition of Public High Schools”, Robert Crosnoe shows that “low-income students in public schools… have more psychological problems when the percentage of middle and high-income families increase in their high school”.10 Therefore, it is undeniable to say that students in lower class have weaker profiles than those in higher classes. Thus, low income students are often some steps behind wealthy kids when they apply to selective colleges. Let’s take a look at the students who were ranked from tenth to fifteenth in the Decision Day Simulation Data11. Each of them, except Benjamin Rosen whose financial need is average ($21,590), needs more than $40,000 a year. Their families are either in low or low-middle class and they have the worst grand total admissions rankings. Hence, even when the F-round was not started yet, the low-income applicants already had less chance of getting in than the privileged ones, because during the time in high school, they had less resources to excel in academics, to prepare for standardized scores, and to select the best fitted extracurricular activities.

             But perhaps what prevents students with socioeconomic disadvantages from being admitted to colleges is the lack of budget. In his book “Creating a class”, Stevens reports the way The College categorize students based on their financial needs. He wrote that “Apps for which the answer to the aid question was no were described colloquially as “free”, because their acceptance would not “cost” the College any of its financial aid budget. Those who would need a lot of financial aid to be able to attend the College often were colloquial described as “expensive” or “needy”.”12 In the simulation, the ability of paying college costs is an indispensable part of the admissions process. The purpose of F-round is to use Net Price Calculator to calculate each student’s expected family contribution and the money Trinity College would have to spend on each student. Due to limited budget ($70,000), every admissions officer looked for students who had high grand admissions total ratings and were able to pay in full first. Students whose families donate money to Trinity were given preferences. Caitlin Quinn is an epitome. It is undoubted that her grand total score is the best, but as stated before in previous paragraphs, her superior socioeconomic status contributed a lot to her grand total score. But there was another reason that is no less important that helped her to be the first nominated applicant. It was the fact that her name appeared on the Vice President of Development’s letter to the Dean as her family have been “a very important financial supporter of our institution.”13 In order to spend the least budget money possible on the first person to admit, every one in the admissions team agreed to admit her right away. Another paradigm is Erika Sparks. Her admissions score was not good enough to be nominated for the first and second time, however due to her low financial need (only $1225), she was accepted in the third attempt, also with a perfect vote 15-0. If it was not due to the poor budget, the first three admitted applicants should have been Caitlin Quinn, Rosa Martinez, and Angelica Parker, as they have the highest grand total ratings and they would meet the socioeconomically diverse goal (one pays in full, one pays very little, and one pays somewhere in the middle). Unfortunately, if the admissions team decided to do so, the $70000 budget would in no way could meet both Rosa and Angelica’s financial needs. Luckily, the final results turned out to be a little bit balance in term of social class, as Caitlin would pay in full, Daniel would pay a little and Jazmine would pay approximately two-third of the total costs. But as mentioned in the introduction, that is not likely to happen again in the future if the same rating system and same amount of budget are used. If the first three admitted people decided to enroll, the entering class would not have been socioeconomically diverse, as there would be no one in a low social class.

            One thing to remember, though, is that the process was certainly legal, because it did not violate any rule about higher education. The rating system did not give any extra point for someone who was in a low social class. If the admissions team had automatically awarded points to low income students, the process would have been illegal because it would be similar to the case Grutter v. Bollinger14 in which University of Michigan automatically gave 20 points for minorities. Hence, the process was legal.

            In a nutshell, from all of the reasons above, though the admissions and financial aid process was legal, it is undeniable that the outcome did neither reflect the best possible entering class nor promote equal educational opportunities, due to the rating system and the budget. As long as money can affect at least one of the factors that admission officers use to determine the brightest applicants, then higher education cannot be considered as an equalizer. To improve this, some changes are needed to be made. To minimize the budget problem, The College needs to expand its funding for financial aid. There are some ways to do it, like contacting alumni and donors more frequently to get more money from them, and asking the states to provide more federal aid money for US citizens applicants. To fix the rating system problem, social class must be taken into account, but not by giving a low income student some numerical points as it would be illegal. The best way is to abandon the whole rating system and set up a new, completely holistic approach by not giving any points at all for any students and thus there will be no grand total admissions ranking. Thirdly, The College should incorporate with some programs that help highly achieving, disadvantaged students to apply for selective colleges (i.e.: QuestBrigde). Thus, it is reasonable to hope for a future where access to education is equal for everyone. But for now, as the simulation showed, an equal access to colleges only exists in theories.


1Decision Day, Color and Money Admissions Simulation Data, Trinity College, Fall 2013,

2Catherine Rampell, “SAT Scores and Family Income,” Economix Blog, August 27, 2009,

3The New York Times, “Affluent Students Have an Advantage,” New York Times, December 22, 2012,

4Adam Gamoran, “Student Achievement in Public Magnet, Public Comprehensive, and Private City High Schools,” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 18, no. 1 (March 20, 1996): 1–18, doi:10.3102/01623737018001001.

5Joshua Klugman, “How Resource Inequalities Among High Schools Reproduce Class Advantages in College Destinations,” Research in Higher Education 53, no. 8 (December 1, 2012): 803–830, doi:10.1007/s11162-012-9261-8, pg. 820.

6Ibid, table 2.

7Ibid, pg. 816.

8Angelica Parker, Simulation Applicant Files, Color & Money seminar at Trinity College, Fall 2013,

9Correspondence from Dean of Admissions (from simulation), Color & Money seminar at Trinity College, Fall 2013,

10Robert Crosnoe, “Low-Income Students and the Socioeconomic Composition of Public High Schools,” American Sociological Review 74, no. 5 (October 1, 2009): 709–730, doi:10.1177/000312240907400502.

11Decision Day, Color and Money Admissions Simulation Data, Trinity College, Fall 2013,

12Stevens, Creating a Class. pg. 197.

13Correspondence from Dean of Admissions (from simulation), Color & Money seminar at Trinity College, Fall 2013,

14 Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 US 306 (Supreme Court 2003).