The Trump era has changed how I interview students applying to women’s colleges
Between the fall of 2010 and the winter of 2011, I was a hopeful college applicant being interviewed for different schools. During that time, I realized that an institution could only help me grow as a woman and an individual if I could trust the university community. And I could only trust the community if respect was a key virtue held by the administration, faculty, and student body. Luckily, I found that trust at one of the Seven Sisters colleges — a group of women’s liberal arts colleges on the East Coast. Seven years later, I find myself on the other side of the table, interviewing prospective students in New York City.
I’ve always enjoyed interviewing applicants. Students who apply to my college are typically assertive, quirky, and curious, and it’s my way of paying it forward. I can provide valuable feedback to young women through my experiences as an alumna and as a now-employee of the Admissions Office for the last three years. Usually, I hear stories about 4.0+ GPAs, successful swim meets, and student government participation before I ask questions that require students to use their imagination or meditate on a transformative moment from their lives.
October and November are always the busiest months for me as an interviewer, and as the 2016 presidential election loomed last year, some applicants couldn’t help but mention that a woman could soon become President of the United States.
Whether interviewees agreed with Clinton’s policies or not, they felt that the college could give them academic prestige. (Clinton is an alumna of Wellesley after all, one of the Seven Sisters campuses.) Prestige isn’t everything, but I saw the surge in applicants as a sign that women’s colleges could continue the progress that was being made.
The evening of November 8th, 2016 was completely surreal. I felt like I was witnessing a tragedy. I remember constantly refreshing my social media feed and texting relatives in different states to cope with the enormity of what was happening.
For the nation’s first Black president to be succeeded by a discriminatory, racist remark-spewing reality TV star was utterly devastating.
I thought about the students I had to meet in the following weeks. How could I carry on as normal, casually discussing inclusivity, mutual respect, and integrity on our campus, when human rights were at risk?
Still in shock, I interviewed a student in late November after the election. I was scared and angry — but, most of all, just tired.
I felt strange asking her why she applied to a women’s college. It seemed inauthentic to ask her, generally, what she was most looking forward to in college. There were so many other things we both wanted to address, but didn’t for fear of being inappropriate.
This moment became a lesson. Times had changed, so our conversations should change, too. I took a step back, and thought about how to be a better interviewer for the next group of students.
As the one-year anniversary of the presidential election passes, I’m resuming my interviewing duties.
I am curious about more than why students want to attend this college.
I want to know how members of the Class of 2022 see the ever-changing world around them. I want to know how this specific institution can genuinely help them change it.
I’m less afraid to ask challenging questions that will indicate if a student will be an active, contributing member of the community, and thus, to the rest of society.
These interviews have revealed students’ passions, personalities, maturity, and hunger for social justice in a way they didn’t before.
Students openly discuss their plans to combat the current administration, and explain how it made them consider a college like this one.
They discuss how college will help them transform themselves and their community in a way they feel they can’t do at home. They embrace their desire to engage with people whose ideologies differ from theirs in a safe environment. At the same time, campus safety and tuition cost have become a greater concern among interviewees.
Now, I bask in a bittersweet glimmer of hope whenever I interview students. Their insights have helped me heal, understand, instruct, and find fuel for the long fight ahead. Now is the time to remind each other that together, we’re stronger.