September 26, 2020 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Opinion: Who Belongs in College?

By Brock Walsh
Guest Op-Ed

Next month I’ll board a red-eye with 50 high school juniors from South Los Angeles, beginning a nine-day trip to ten East coast colleges. There, these new recruits to our non-profit, College Match, will try to picture themselves among the incoming freshmen. They are all high-achieving, low-income, first-generation kids of color. The hyphenates, as one student put it. Super heroes, I say.

The recent admissions bribery scandal won’t be on their minds, I suspect. Their worry is something different— impostor syndrome— that even if accepted by one of the elite institutions we visit, they will eventually be outed as frauds by their more affluent and predominantly white classmates. Despite their being every bit as smart and arguably more resilient, it’s a fear that nags at nearly every student in our program. By the time these juniors begin college in the fall of 2020, I worry that time will have erased any memory of Hollywood celebrities buying spots in the freshman class. It will once again be minority students at whom fingers are pointed for being undeserving. Business as usual.

Four years ago, as an admissions officer at Harvard College, I was tasked with reading applications from schools all over Los Angeles, public and private. I read essays from the children of affluent west-siders and the children of East LA housekeepers and gardeners, kids very much like the ones I now counsel. Given the ever increasing number of applications, the odds of admission were abysmally low and remain so. However, a few amazing candidates, from the east side and west, were offered spots. And each year a few were students from College Match.

I vowed to myself to keep an eye on the admitted first-gen kids (I’d been one myself 40 years before), meeting them for coffee or a walk on the Cambridge Common. The transition can be difficult and they appreciated our conversations. Maybe as much as I did. But without exception, they struggled with a persistent fear that they were looked upon as impostors. With time, and some real effort from the university, they grew in confidence. They would succeed and graduate. But the fear never left them.

In 2015 my wife and I returned to Santa Monica and I joined College Match. I loved working in college admissions but find the closer connection with students more to my liking. Playing some small part in their success is a bit like witnessing the miracle of flight.

I joined a dozen dedicated counselors, each assigned to one or more of 31 schools in South LA. There we guide students through the admissions process and provide SAT prep they would otherwise find unaffordable. From early on, we encourage them as writers to express themselves honestly and clearly, to permit themselves to dream extravagantly. Then we push them hard.

It’s a testament to the durability of dreams that they dream at all. Their schools are located in some of Los Angeles’ bleakest neighborhoods. Their stories reveal that they have already lived through more hardship and abuse than most people will endure in a lifetime. And yet dream they do.

If only we can get them to feel like they deserve it.

It can take a long time. Our organization is led by Erica Rosales. Born in east LA, she attended Wellesley before the use of hyphens became the norm. The combination of her pluck and pure luck put her in contact with a Wellesley rep and, just months later, she flew on an airplane for the first time. She made the journey, and the transition to college, completely on her own. Her parents saw the campus exactly once, at her graduation.

When she speaks to parents and students, she tells her story without embellishment because it needs none. She returned to East LA, becoming the community organizer she set out to be years before. She started a school. And today she’s Executive Director of the program founded in 2003 by Harley Frankel, who after leading the Head Start program, saw an uneven playing field for minority students and started leveling it. But she admits she was not immune from the same self doubt that besets our current students.

When we can provide deserving kids with the opportunities enjoyed by more affluent students, they can achieve whatever they set out to do. Our College Match alumni have proven it. They are now full time professionals: doctors, lawyers, community organizers and teachers.

And each year as we graduate another class of Wonder Women and X Men, they come back to the banquet room at Luminarias in Monterey Park to deliver a message: You belong. You deserve it.

Believe it.

Brock Walsh is a senior college counselor at College Match in Los Angeles, CA. He is also former songwriter and admissions officer at Harvard College.

Brock Walsh

Senior College Counselor
College Match
www.collegematchla.org
thebulliesmusical.com
310.866.7141 (c)

Related Posts

Edify TV: Trident Center Redevelopment

September 25, 2020

September 25, 2020

The Westside’s Trident Center is getting a major overhaul and new name as part of a flurry of development in...

Miramar Project to go Before City Council Tuesday

September 24, 2020

September 24, 2020

Councilmember Gleam Davis asks City Attorney whether she should rescue self from vote  By Sam Catanzaro  Santa Monica lawmakers will...

SMa.r.t. Column: Needed, A Heart Transplant

September 24, 2020

September 24, 2020

We have written about adaptive reuse in previous columns and have postulated that with proper incentives, the existing one, two...

Edify TV: Boulders Blocking Westside Encampment

September 24, 2020

September 24, 2020

City officials recently removed boulders placed on sidewalks by some Westside residents to prevent the formation of a homeless encampment....

Should Council Member Davis Recuse Herself From Voting? Santa Monica Beat – September, 24, 2020

September 24, 2020

September 24, 2020

Local news and culture in under 5 minutes. * Should Council Member Davis Recuse Herself From Voting? * Increases In...

SMC to Be Online for Winter and Spring 2021

September 24, 2020

September 24, 2020

College cites lack of available vaccine  By Sam Catanzaro Santa Monica College (SMC) has announced it will be delivering classes...

Edify TV: Al Fresco Program Ending?

September 24, 2020

September 24, 2020

During a COVID-19 pandemic many restaurants have found aid through the City of Los Angeles’ Al Fresco dining program, but...

Local Breweries Say They Have Been Unfairly Shuttered as County Passes Grant Program

September 24, 2020

September 24, 2020

$10 million grant program approved by Board of Supervisors  By Sam Catanzaro Will a $10 million grant program be enough...

Santa Monica Loses Vegan Restaurant

September 23, 2020

September 23, 2020

Space housing Santa Monica vegan restaurant Viva Vegan up for lease By Sam Catanzaro A vegan restaurant in Santa Monica...

Risks Posed by Wildfire Smoke

September 22, 2020

September 22, 2020

UCLA pulmonologist on how people can tell if the wildfires are making them sick By Toi Creel Even if you...

Will Los Angeles County See Another Spike in COVID-19 Cases?

September 22, 2020

September 22, 2020

County health officials keeping close eye on data this week By Sam Catanzaro Los Angeles County health officials are monitoring...

Edify TV: Santa Monica Fire Department Fighting Blazes Across State

September 21, 2020

September 21, 2020

The Santa Monica Fire Department has been busy helping combat wildfires burning throughout the state. Learn more in this video...

Lawmakers and Residents Take Steps Towards Police Reform

September 21, 2020

September 21, 2020

Santa Monica residents will soon have more control of policing after local lawmakers took significant steps to reform the Santa...

2020 Census Due September 30th: Santa Monica Beat – September, 21, 2020

September 21, 2020

September 21, 2020

Local news and culture in under 5 minutes. * 2020 Census Due September 30th * Bobcat Fire Reaches Historical Size...

UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica Offers Free “Living With Diabetes” Zoom Patient Conference

September 21, 2020

September 21, 2020

By Staff Writer Although the novel coronavirus has dominated the health space this year, other diseases — like diabetes —...