"I did not get into college just because I'm a girl."
Ivy League Decision Day this year was one week ago.
Naturally, most of the day, spirits ran high. My friends fell into one of two categories: the ignoramus or the anxiety case. One could choose to ignore the impending decision, or (and this seems a less happy alternative) choose to debate their options back and forth. Despite our best efforts when the decision hour arrived, we received emails and logged into college websites and read that letter, that letter that determined our future.
When the decisions came back, some celebrated and some didn’t. I had a close friend who had applied to one of the colleges I had applied to as well. I wasn’t particularly inclined towards this school, though I knew of its legacy, whereas my friend had dreamed of attending this school for most of his illustrious high school career. When I received a positive response, I turned to my friend and expected to do the “happy dance” with him – a spontaneous jumping-up-and-down with a sprinkling of squealing. As I looked at him, however, it was obvious that his face had rejection written on it. Unsure of what to do I turned toward the computer screen, immersing myself in that soft glow rather than face what was sure to be an awkward conversation. Finally, he looked at me, saw my letter, and congratulated me. I gave him a hug and said something along the lines of “their loss!”
As we continued to talk that day, he couldn’t let go of the rejection and was constantly wondering what had caused that decision. He finally came to the conclusion, “I suppose they didn’t really need another Indian guy in science”. His words shocked me but I bit back my criticism, knowing that he only needed comfort, not a debate. Still, it got me thinking.
Had I been accepted into this prestigious institution because of my gender? After all, a woman who wants to study computer science is somewhat of an anomaly.
When I attended the national winners award ceremony for the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing, our keynote speaker had said something that had stuck with me: “Being a woman in technology was not something that I found detrimental; in fact, I enjoyed the uniqueness of it”. Being the only girl in my Advanced Programming class, and the second girl in my school’s history to have taken the complete Computer Science curriculum, I definitely do appreciate the “uniqueness”. But was this moving beyond a mere feeling? Was this “uniqueness” affecting college decisions, getting me accepted on the basis of gender?
As I read through the admission blogs of one of the colleges I am considering, I came across one sentence about the school's admitted students that stuck with me: “They’re a strong and self-selecting group”. The blogger went on to say that the women who applied to this college were often more qualified than the men who sent in applications, simply because these young women had felt the need to prove themselves. The gender ratio of this school's student body, which is 45% female, apparently is due entirely to the fact that fewer women applied.
Maybe in a week or two, when feelings have dissapated and rationality can kick in, I’ll be able to have this conversation with my friend. Affirmative action, in this case regarding gender, only ever affects a very small portion of people. One should be qualified for a college based on performance, not gender or ethnicity. In most cases, the women who are going on to study information technology really know their stuff. Comparing myself to my peers in my all-male Advanced Programming class, I definitely can attest to that need to prove one’s self. I can’t slack off in that class and I have an almost pathological need to demonstrate my proficiency in the material.
So here’s my call to arms for future generations of high school women. Don’t let your success fall prey to the “oh, it’s because she’s a girl” excuse.