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Guidance counselors' blind spots can hurt minority students

Esther J. Cepeda on

This is exactly what happened at the National Association for College Admission Counseling's national conference earlier this month when keynote speaker Shaun R. Harper told the mostly white high-school guidance counselors and college admissions officers that their race has the potential to color their work.

According to a write-up in the trade journal Inside Higher Ed, Harper, the director of the University of Southern California's Race and Equity Center, excoriated counselors for a plethora of life-changing professional sins. These include counselors not investing the same amount of time and energy in helping students of color apply to college as they do with white students, "undermatching" minority students by encouraging them to apply to less selective universities or even dissuading students of color from reaching for elite schools by telling them they aren't smart enough.

The conversation was continued at a conference panel discussion on race titled "Counseling While White." One participant, April Crabtree, an assistant vice provost of undergraduate admissions at the University of San Francisco, noted that nearly 80 percent of professors are white and even more administrators are. (A 2012 survey by the College Board found that 78 percent of high school counselors are white.) Crabtree told the crowd: "If you're blind to whiteness in your personal life, you will not be aware of this in your professional lives."

At best, these blind spots leave the adults who play a major role in the lives of minority and first-generation college students at a disadvantage. At worst, it keeps them from seeing potential scholars where they might otherwise perceive kids who aren't going very far in life.

But it doesn't take heroic exertions to shake this inability to understand minority students' special needs -- it just takes effort.

 

At minimum, there are several works of fiction (including "Make Your Home Among Strangers" by Jennine Capo Crucet) and documentaries (like "First Generation") that can open doors to the appreciation that a short quarterly appointment with unfamiliar students simply can't match.

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Esther Cepeda's email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

 

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