Columns

Savello ’18: Gender should play no role in admissions

By
Staff Columnist
Sunday, December 4, 2016

This December, as early decision admission results loom, it’s important to consider the methodology that goes into accepting students to Brown. While GPA, standardized tests and activities are all well-known for being high priority factors in the decision, a lesser known factor is also influencing the application process — and, as Jon Birger ’90 argued recently in The Herald, not in a positive way.

As The Herald reported, 50 percent more women currently apply to Brown than males. By logical inference, this could mean that qualified women are turned away in order to maintain a balanced gender ratio.

According to the article, universities argue that relatively even gender ratios are important and necessary — few liberal arts college dares to go beyond the 60/40 split for fear of creating a lopsided environment and making the school less appealing to potential applicants. But what exactly makes it so unappealing? Is this inherently detrimental to a quality education?

In a world where gender roles are transforming drastically and the definition of gender itself is beginning to change even in the mainstream, the strict focus on these ratios in admission decisions doesn’t seem to make sense. This is especially relevant given Brown’s focus on diversity. Using resources to manufacture a balance based on a socially constructed binary is hypocritical to the Brown community’s strong liberal stance. It doesn’t reflect the ideals of a place where students give each other the space to introduce themselves and their gender pronouns at club meetings, for example. Additionally, many students do not identify with a gender, are fluid between genders or are transgender, which is why the process of meeting benchmarks according to the gender binary is problematic.

One logical explanation for this ratio obsession stems back to the concept of maximizing the appeal for prospective students, which is based on outdated ideas. According to this style of thinking — which we can liken to heteronormative dating culture — too many male students and not enough female students might deter males from coming, and vice versa, because of slimmer pickings and more competition in the dating pool. Though that might have been an important determining factor back in the 1800s, in the twenty-first century, we cannot base our standards on this type of heteronormativity.

More evidence of the outdated mindsets of college administrators is found in the current tactics they employ to entice more men to apply to their schools. Some colleges, for example, are building more football programs to increase the number of male applicants. But, in reality, this ‘solution,’ which is largely based on the gendered stereotype that men like football, is highly flawed.

Ultimately, the University should reevaluate its consideration of gender ratios in the admission process and the true motives behind them. If the ratios are simply in place to maintain backwards, heteronormative stereotypes, then it is not fitting for Brown and its applicants. And if there is a more rational or nuanced reason for it, they should make it clear to those it affects. We don’t endorse such practices on campus, so why are they present in our admission process?

Samantha Savello ’18 can be reached at samantha_savello@brown.edu. 

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