Color Me Racist

By Garaudy Etienne, Class of 2017

By Garaudy Etienne, Class of 2017

One of my most vivid experiences from high school in West Orange, NJ was being called “monkey” or “n*gger” by fellow classmates when I first moved there. Growing up in Haiti, a country that is 95% black, and even when I lived in Belgium, I never dealt with this issue. It was pretty shocking that when I moved to the “greatest and most diverse country on earth” it was such a regular occurrence. As much as those kids’ comments were hurtful, I took solace in the fact that my future looked brighter than theirs. Soon enough, their words stopped having any effect on me. I had the world all figured out.

Looking back on my high school years, however, there is one particular incident that stuck with me. It was September of senior year. With a 2290 and a perfect score on the math and writing sections of the SAT, I was excited to meet with my guidance counselor to discuss my college prospects. When I arrived in her office, I was warmly greeted and asked what schools I was considering. I started off by saying, “Well, I want to be an aerospace engineer so I’m thinking schools with great engineering programs like MIT, Stanford, Princeton and Cornell.” She stopped me right there and said, “Wow… that seems pretty ambitious! You’re aiming a little high don’t you think? We should probably reduce the number of elite schools and throw some target and safety schools in the mix.” She specifically recommended that I drop MIT, Princeton and Stanford from the list, especially given the application cost burden on poor minorities like myself. Anyone who knows me knows there is very little people can do to shake my confidence. So, I threw everything she said out the window and proceeded to apply to every university that pleased me.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I truly understood the significance of that conversation. My counselor knew that despite recently immigrating to the US, I was near the top of my class. She knew my SAT score and knew that I aced every available AP class. Yet somehow, with all that information, she believed I wasn’t good enough for Princeton or MIT engineering. I later found out that she recommended Princeton to every other student in the top 5% of the class. Although I laugh at the situation now, this is the kind of racial discrimination that keeps me up at night. Here was a guidance counselor, wiser and more experienced, telling me that I was aiming too high but not the other students. This experience taught me a very valuable lesson. One should not blindly follow the advice of authority figures because even when they mean well; their unconscious biases may get in the way and lead to faulty advice. This is a philosophy I carry with me today, and I believe that it has helped me persevere during the recruiting process at Booth. Now for those of you who find yourselves in the position of the counselor in the future, I urge you to be aware of how your own biases may be clouding your judgment, especially when interacting with minorities.

Garaudy is a first year student who believes that when it comes to dancing... it’s not Rocket Science.