From Mazatlan to Brown’s Prestigious Grounds

Although Hispanics are very much making their way into the best universities of the U.S., new enrollment figures show timid advances or even regression

Kimberly Dávila fue aceptada a la universidad Brown, que es parte de la llamada Ivy League, un selecto grupo de universidades del país.
Kimberly Dávila fue aceptada a la universidad Brown, que es parte de la llamada Ivy League, un selecto grupo de universidades del país.
Foto: Aurelia Ventura / Impremedia/La Opinion

They are outstanding students who faced challenges and are graduating this month from their respective high schools. They have been admitted to renowned universities, where they arrived thanks to their good grades and commitment. In this and subsequent issues we will tell these stories of educational success.

In her essay to apply for admission to one of the most important universities in the United States, Kimberly Davila went to the point: “Brown is not for browns” (Brown is not for colored people), the teen wrote in the beginning of the text referring to the limited Latino presence in the prestigious institute of Rhode Island.

“I saw there weren’t people like me,” said Davila, Montebello High School graduate, during her visit to the Brown campus last year. The only Hispanics she saw on that campus were her fellow Angelinos who toured it as part of an academic program.

This fall, Davila, who was born in Mazatlan, Sinaloa, 17 years ago, will be part of a select group of Latinos in Brown’s classrooms, where she will study Political Science and International Relations. She took advantage of a generous financial package that will cover her academic career.

“I like to represent my people, I come from a very low-income community, from a family that has always worked hard and also, the fact that I am an immigrant makes this a very great achievement,” said the girl who was undocumented for much of her childhood. Her parents brought her as a baby.

Paving the Way

In the 2015-16 school year, only 179 Latinos (11% of its new students) were able to enroll at Brown, founded in 1764, and whose list of graduates includes Nobel Prize winners and governors, as well as leading scientists, executives, entrepreneurs, writers and scholars.

Only one in 10 applicants is accepted at that school, a similar rate (from 6% to 14%) to that of the other seven universities with high academic standards that make up the so-called Ivy League: Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, and Pennsylvania.

Although Hispanics continue to pave the way in these universities, the new enrollment figures show modest progress or even reversals.

Brown received 193 Latinos (12.5% of its total) in 2012; this is 14 more than last year.

The institute emphasizes that its admissions process does not identify ethnic groups, but capabilities.

“Our commitment with diversity […] means to attract teachers, students and staff exceptionally talented,” the university said in a statement sent to this newspaper.

In Princeton, Hispanics make up 9.1% of the students; and in Harvard, 12%.

In the Interest of Diversity

At Dartmouth College, in New Hampshire, 103 Latinos were enrolled in 2014. There, Hispanics have not exceeded 10% of students since 2010.

That school stressed that it “embraces diversity and inclusion as core values that significantly improve the quality of education we offer.”

Alejandro Ruiz, counselor in a program of the University of Southern California (USC) that helps low-income students continue their studies, says he has seen more encouragement to apply for admission to Ivy League, but admits that, regrettably, few succeed.

“We’re opening their eyes, we tell them, ‘Harvard, Yale are there,’ but some see it as something far away, especially geographically,” said Ruiz. “But others have gotten funds to pay for those schools and are going there,” he said.

The Challenges

Like other highly selective schools, the Ivy colleges look for students with excellent grades who challenge themselves by taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses and get involved in community and extracurricular activities.

Among the challenges Latinos face to meet these requirements are studying in underperforming high schools and that many are pioneers in their family to enter to a higher school.

“Some have parents who only attended elementary school for a short period,” said Stephanie Campbell, executive director of the college preparatory program Bright Prospect based in Pomona.

In other cases, Hispanic families are distressed to think that their children are away from home or are unaware that the Ivy schools offer financial aid packages based on the applicants’ economic status, covering tuition fees for up to $60,000 a year.

Bright Prospect, which has guided Latinos students to prestigious schools, has not noticed an increase in access to them. “It is very competitive to be there,” Campbell insisted.

Investing in the Community

Before dreaming of entering one of the best universities in the country, Kimberly accompanied her father, a worker whom in Mexico attended a few years of elementary school, to a march in downtown Los Angeles that asked for the legalization of 11 million undocumented immigrants.

A desire to help her people, she says, was born from that mobilization. After earning her degree from Brown, her plan is to return to East Los Angeles, where she has lived since arriving to the United States.

“I would like to encourage other students who don’t go to these schools because they believe they may not be able to enter or do not have the motivation to apply,” said the teenager.

Kimberly Dávila (Aurelia Ventura/La Opinión)
Kimberly Dávila (Aurelia Ventura/La Opinión)

The high school teacher and activist Randy Jurado Ertll noticed that, those who go to Ivy universities often get disconnected from their neighborhoods due to the lack of job opportunities there.

“The concept should not only be to help an individual, but an entire community because it creates a brain drain,” he said.

Kimberly has not yet decided whether she will be a journalist (she is the editor of a magazine at her high school) or a lawyer, but she knows that her achievements will become the inspiration of her family.

They will be able to apply to Harvard, Princeton and Yale, and will not fear not knowing if they will succeed,” she says.