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Guidance counselors' blind spots can hurt minority students

Esther J. Cepeda on

CHICAGO -- We all harbor little hurts in life, ones that never go away no matter how long ago they happened.

One of mine is that I didn't get to participate in my high school graduation ceremony.

Instead of walking across the stage of my college-prep school -- a prestigious school I had dreamed of attending since I was in first grade -- getting cheered on by family and friends, I sat with the band. I cried as we played "Pomp and Circumstance" for my classmates who commenced into their bright futures.

It wasn't bad grades or discipline issues -- I was a good student. It was just an administrative blunder.

There had been a scheduling mix-up and I ended up taking the second half of chemistry without having completed the first half. So in June, after all my friends had begun their summer of pre-freshman-at-college fun, I sat in a stifling hot classroom making up that half-credit that had gotten lost in the shuffle.

Now: Is it possible that my adviser didn't think of me as college-going material and wasn't on top of my credits? Sure, it's possible.

My mom did 100 percent of the legwork and research necessary to get me in to college -- she was the one who helped me write applications, send transcripts and basically everything a college guidance counselor is supposed to do -- and my actual counselor never even broached these topics with me. It seems feasible that as someone with no family track record of attending college, I just wasn't a priority for anyone in the guidance office.

Though I am very proud of the education I received at a state land-grant school -- and super glad I ended up there since it's where I met my husband -- it boggles the mind to imagine where life might have taken me had I been treated like other students who were expected to not only graduate on time, but go to the top-flight universities my majority-white peers had been encouraged to apply to.

I tell this story not because I felt victimized, but to illustrate just how outsize of an impact high school guidance counselors have on students' future school and career trajectories.

With such high stakes, it's only right that these post-secondary gatekeepers reflect upon their power and potential biases as they do a job that literally puts students' lives in their hands.

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