The Meritocratic Myth

Meritocracy is a constructed ideal so heavily embedded into the infrastructure of America that people and institutions alike use it as a means by which to maintain standing hierarchies. The power to do so stems from the implication of meritocracy that we occupy a completely just space where opportunities are provided equally and equitably, such that any failure to succeed then comes back on the self for blame. This is problematic because it has been empirically proven that institutionalized racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. exist. And that these isms ban certain people from occupying spaces, pursuing opportunities, and mobilizing themselves. The realm of higher education is not immune to this.

Institutions of higher education to some extent reinforce these same ideals. Most institutions require students to have high GPAs and standardized test scores, regardless of race, geographic location, cultural upbringing, etc. despite the fact that is has been proven that these things impact children’s performance in school. Beyond that, students and their families are expected to be able to spend thousands of dollars on education, and many institutions are very unapologetic about not providing sufficient financial aid. This places the blame on the family for not being economically prosperous enough to provide education for themselves. Once again, despite the fact that many identities are predisposed (through institutional enforcement) to not have economically gainful careers. This even extends to students who cannot particularly afford school but still attend, accepting loads of debt and working to put themselves through. These students are provided no sympathy if their GPAs slip, or if their assignments are late, despite the fact that they may have to work full time jobs on top of already being full time students.

I consider myself one of the lucky students, having gotten into Occidental despite having a GPA and standardized test scores well below the schools average. And to some extent I do dedicate my low grades and scores to my mediocre public school education in a impoverished city. Knowing that these same grades and scores are the reason why I was rejected from many other schools is painful because I know that if I had been admitted, I would have been able to perform up to par. As I do now at Oxy.

However, the filtering out of students like myself from other higher institutions affirms what Mettler argues. Mettler contends that “as colleges grow more stratified, more differentiated in their accessibility to different socioeconomic groups and in what they offer them, they are generating greater inequality in American society” (37). I am completely in accordance with this statement because if institutions of higher education collective continue to reject students who do not have the grades, scores, or money to fit the institutions status quo, then it will only create an even more separated society. Because more often than not, the people with low grades, scores, and not enough money often share identities, and those identities are almost always those of marginalized status. With the way things are going, higher educations institutions will be a vector by which those who are meant to succeed, and those who are not, will be cleanly divided, and with that will come a clear phenotypic identity of the successful and unsuccessful.

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