The road to remain competitive for graduate school programs has long been an arduous effort for a small portion of the population. Students at the top of their undergraduate classes in both G.P.A. and entrance exam score percentiles know all too well the dedication and perseverance required to attain those precious rankings. With a recent shift in admissions preference, students aspiring to fill a coveted spot in their graduate-level program of choice have added yet another hurdle of criteria to their already brimming plate of demands. This shift has established a new precedence, one that seeks to appeal not only to the significant academic achievement of potential applicants but which gives substantial weight to their holistic capabilities as well.
Other factors like family income, family education level, personal hardships and race have been added to the already expansive list of considerations, all while racking up some noteworthy controversy. Because of these modern revisions of emphasis and the magnitude at which they are weighed, a predictable level of ridicule from highly-achieving students and their families has in recent times seen an elevated level of prevalence.
The most commonplace of gripes regards the delicate topic of perceived racial preference concerning graduate school admittance and the continuous burden faced by agents of affirmative action (Executive Order No. 10925). And this contentious outcry from students who don’t identify with an ethnic minority is probably most prolific with aspiring medical students. Because of my personal interest in medicine, and the sheer number of pre-medical peers in my undergraduate courses, this is a topic that I have become keenly aware of.
In an effort to educate myself and answer questions regarding the legitimacy of often times disheartened claims, I came across a disenchanted news article written by someone who professed to have all the answers. In his New York Post piece published three years ago, Vijay Chokal-Ingam, an Indian-American and self-described opportunist, summarized how he scammed his way into medical school acceptance, and why now he refers to himself self as a “hacktivist.” After hearing the saddening news that an Indian-American friend of his had been rejected from 15 medical schools during the application cycle, Vijay says that first he was shocked, and then he began to worry. He then decided that because his friend, a student who earned better grades than him because he “actually studied,” was not admitted, he was determined to do anything to get in, even if that meant lying on his application.
Vijay eventually decided that his only option for successful admission was to falsify his race. He chose to start identifying himself as a member of the black community; he shaved his head, trimmed his eyebrows and even joined the University of Chicago’s Organization of Black Students after his friend who ran the program agreed to participate in the sham. After applying to several schools with a G.P.A. well below the mean, he was eventually accepted into St. Louis University where he attended for two years before dropping out.
What Vijay and many non-minority graduate school hopefuls seem to misconstrue is not necessarily the degree to which opportunity is afforded to minority applicants, but the rationale behind the objective. The move towards compelling higher ethnic diversity in medicine, I believe, is not so much an effort to alleviate rigor for its applicants as much as it is an attempt to satisfy the needs of an increasingly diverse patient population. This melting pot nation we live in is home to immigrants and refugees from nearly every other country on earth. The American Medical Association is well aware of this progressively changing landscape, and understands the importance of training diverse physicians to treat the unique needs of differing demographics.
What I found most telling about Vijay’s story was the immediate social fallout he experienced after transitioning to his new racial identity. He claims that he quickly became the target of significant racial prejudice. While walking on campus during his undergrad, he observed a frantic white woman who ran through a snowy field in an attempt to avoid sharing the sidewalk with him. Another time, he reported being hassled for shoplifting at a local grocery store he used to frequent and was even thrown to the ground after protesting. Once while driving slightly under the speed limit in his shiny 4Runner, a police officer approached his car and began to berate him, questioning how he could have afforded such an expensive vehicle.
In beating the system and forging his way to admittance, Vijay feels he succeeded in pointing out the inherent problems with affirmative action, but I couldn’t disagree more. Although he faced racial discrimination and even hostile encounters on his own campus after making his transformation, somehow he was still unable to draw a connection between this product of systemic racism and the efforts college boards have made to at least begin to reconcile the struggle racial minorities face. Instead of attacking those institutions that attempt to serve the disproportionately disadvantaged, we should embrace them, and strive towards providing an environment where they are no longer necessary to level the playing field.