Access is the ability or the right to approach, enter, exit or communicate with or to make use of… Opportunity is a chance for progress or advancement. If some people, by design, had easier and more abundant opportunities to approach, enter, exit or communicate with (something or someone) it could make those chances or opportunities seem unfair for those who do not have that same ability or right. For example, many colleges and universities require that students take an SAT (standardized achievement test) in order to be considered for admission. I recognize that there must be standards by which students are measured and compared for admission to colleges and universities; I just do not believe that those particular tests or others like them are an adequate or fair measurement. Putting aside the fact that they really don’t measure knowledge and the knowledge that they do measure is extremely biased culturally, economically and sociologically, the fact they remain a barrier to college admissions is more to the point.
Whereas theoretically all students have the “right” to go to college many do not have the ability to take the necessary tests in order to qualify for consideration. Even if a student is able to take the test with assistance or an earned scholarship, because these tests cost money, and even more money to send copies of the results to the colleges where the student is applying, these same students often do not have the means to pay for classes. Multiple applications require multiple fees, after taking the test; students then have to raise the funds to attend college. The inequity comes when “some” students not only have the ability to take the test, they take the test multiple times in order to improve their scores allowing them to become more competitive in the college admissions process. Many of these students also take SAT Prep courses that teach them skills and give them opportunities to practice in “mock” SAT testing. These courses help to de-mystify the test, the testing process and decrease student anxiety. The courses are quite “pricey” but parents with means are able to provide their students with the opportunity to gain a competitive edge over other students whose parents or guardians do not have the money to likewise advance their student to the head of the line.
The example above outlines what is problematic about the unequal access to resources and/or the preparations involved in advancing higher percentages of our students and young people to go from high school to college. How many opportunities remain untapped due to the systemic barriers that qualify some while disqualifying others? Hence one of the difficulties in the continuing struggles for equity. Saying that everybody can go to the island for the beach party but only “some folks“ can have a ride in the boat, leaves the rest of the folks on the opposite shore wondering if the invitation was even real.
There are those students who may be the first in their family to go to college. There is no familiar example to follow with regard to higher education and how to navigate the journey. They are confused by those for whom passage on the boat is prearranged. Why do some people get to ride and others are left behind to build a boat or try to swim across to the island? And where did these people get their tickets for the boat ride? It is difficult to explain and one is left with the recognition that there is indeed an institutionalized practice of unequal access and un-accessed opportunity, a practice that is pervasive within the systems of higher education among many other systems. We cannot stand by idly and watch our students remain on the shoreline while others board the boats to the island of knowledge; a knowledge that will provide them with access to the American Dream and the opportunity to gain a better future through scholarship and achievement. We cannot allow the barriers that are designed to minimize our pathways to opportunity or access keep us from acknowledging our ability to improvise and create our own prospects through perseverance and the will to overcome those barriers one by one.
“What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore—And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over—like syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?”
Talk to me!
Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, Ph.D.
Artistic Director & Founder
The Conciliation Project
Next week: The Supreme Court Justice & Racial Entitlements