Attack On UPenn Student Makes Me Question the College Admissions Process


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On Sept. 4, a University of Pennsylvania student was brutally assaulted by another student at the fraternity known as “Castle.” There is speculation that the attack was racially motivated.

Sabrina Bierman, Social Media Editor

This week I learned that one of my brother’s high school classmates, now a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, was brutally assaulted by a fellow student in what a witness described as a race-motivated assault on a Latino student from Miami.

The attacker inflicted brain and facial injuries on the student, severe enough to require hospitalization. The victim’s hands and knuckles were uninjured, indicating that he did not fight back. Bystanders, also University of Pennsylvania students, some of whom were friends of the perpetrator, did nothing to help. A single female student who witnessed the attack tried to intervene, b she was no match. No one called 911. No one else helped. Penn students merely dragged the unconscious victim outside the attack site, dumped him on the street, and left him there. Cowardice, brutality, and despicable acts ruled the night. 

As the college application season is going full steam for seniors, it is worth thinking about how the most important human attributes – decency, courage, empathy – are the most difficult for an admissions officer to judge. Schools say that they look for accomplishments, potential, and tenacity to build a class that will enhance learning. Many high school students spend years creating a persona that will be appealing to a competitive school: and for the Penn assailant and the bystanders this was successful. They made it in – they beat the odds – but in this situation they were failures. The perpetrator of the assault is a criminal who deserves jail time. Those who did nothing also failed by allowing a preventable and despicable hate crime to take place.

Admissions officers face an enormous challenge, and it is time for them to reconsider how they select students.  Character and compassion are as, or even more important, than the activities and other qualifications listed on a résumé. Our elite institutions must try to get to know the person behind the application. It will take more work, but for the purpose of building a student body that brings together people who use their gifts to create a supportive community, and ultimately take on our greatest challenges. The officers can start by asking themselves a couple of simple questions. Would they want this person for a friend? Would they trust them to care for a vulnerable loved one? If not, why bother?