A Personal Statement from Jennifer Delahunty Britz
Kenyon's dean of admissions reflects on realities that often go unspoken
I wrote the article which appeared in the March 23 New York Times because I was caught in the confluence of the personal and professional. My daughter had been wait-listed at a college that I believed would admit her. As a dean of admissions, I was also, simultaneously, reviewing the credentials of thousands of incredible young men and women. Throughout that process, one thing that struck me was the performance, or even the overperformance, of the young women. I felt empathy, and a responsibility to both the men and the women who had applied to Kenyon--and as a mother of a wait-listed girl, I felt a need to speak out.
Responses to the article have covered the full range of emotion, from heart-felt support to outrage. Some critics accuse Kenyon of favoring girls; others say we're favoring boys. The fact is we're favoring neither.
My colleagues from across the country, who deal with this issue every day in college admissions and in high school counseling offices, have been entirely supportive. "Thank you for your willingness to tackle a very difficult subject with such honesty and sensitivity," wrote the college counselor at an all-girls high school in Manhattan. "Too many college admissions folks are dancing around this issue, so it is a relief when someone of your stature tells it like it is."
"The situations you discussed in your piece are the ones that face us all every day as we make decisions," wrote the dean of a formerly all-women, now coeducational liberal arts college.
Rather than entering the fray of gender politics, my goal with the article was simply to tell the truth: men are a growing minority in the ranks of college-going students, and this fact has an impact on women. Those who say we're unfair to female applicants must recognize this reality. We in admissions not only recognize it; we grapple with it seriously and sensitively as we assess candidates one by one, as whole people, not numbers and not labels.
To those critics who say that in my article I didn't address the vexing problem of boys and education, I would respond: I am deeply troubled that the rates of male participation in higher education are decreasing, and my staff and I have had extensive conversations about what we can do as individuals and as an institution to reverse that trend. How K-12 education has failed young boys and why they aren't seeking higher education--these are topics that need to be addressed with urgency by our nation's policy makers. The mainstream press has considered the male issue extensively; my op-ed article simply sought to deepen the discussion by examining how this trend is affecting females.
We college administrators have traditionally been reluctant to lift the veil shrouding the realities that shape admissions practices. My interest in greater transparency has been inspired in part by an organization called the Education Conservancy (www.educationconservancy.org), which seeks to restore educational values in college admissions. Along with other members of this organization, I believe that we need to talk about issues that matter, to work less as gatekeepers and more as educators. We seek to make college choice less of a contest to be won and more of an educational journey.
The members of the Kenyon College admissions staff are recruiters but also educators. We promote Kenyon, but we also promote higher education in general. We reach out equally to young men and women. We review the credentials of young men and women equally. We seek to find "fit" between our institution and the candidates who apply. It is both an art and science. And as such it is an inherently imperfect process. Rest assured, however, that those who choose this profession hold a kind of sacred pact with each applicant: to make the very best decisions we can, one applicant at a time.