Shadow Day

Last week I participated in YWCA’s “Shadow Day”, where high school students from neighboring communities (well, basically Oakland) are matched up with a Cal student. The shadows follow the college students to class and attend presentations on how to get into college. Most of these kids are not exactly “college-track”, so the hopes of this program were to inspire high-schoolers to want to go to college.

My shadow, let’s call her M, was sophomore at an Oakland high school. Right after picking her up, I had my first class of the day, Japanese, so she quietly sat in and was probably rather bewildered since the entire class is in a foreign language.

I then took M to a presentation at the YWCA where admissions counselors spoke about how to get into college. They also spoke about “alternate” ways to go through college, such as being a transfer student. Not gonna lie, as I was listening in, I couldn’t help but think, “you are preaching to the wrong choir here.”. For example, one of the presenters asked the audience, “Who wants to go to college?” and only about 5 people out of a room of 100+ people raised their hands. She then asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and nobody raised their hands. Finally, one kid enthusiastically raised his hand and yelled out, “FOOTBALL PLAYER!” at which I did an internal head-smack. M herself wanted to be a fashion designer and go to art school, not Berkeley.

Which is fine. Not everyone is college-track, and if they are, not everyone is academically minded and wants to go to Berkeley or a “prestigious” school and that’s perfectly okay. But it reminded me of what I’ve been learning about in my RA preparation class which is focused on social justice.  These kids don’t want to go to college because their peers don’t want to go to college and there probably aren’t many college graduates in their lives. As for me, I graduated from a high school where everyone went to college. It wasn’t a question of “Are you going to college after graduating?”, but more like “Which UC did you get into?” So here I am at UC Berkeley. For me, pursuing an “unconventional” career such as one in art or athletics was discouraged and not going to college wasn’t even considered as an option.

So, I think I understand a little more about privilege after participating in shadow day. I’ll admit that during the day I did think, “these kids don’t want to go to college. Why are we trying so hard to persuade them to go? I didn’t have an opportunity to shadow college students in high school. I wish I did, why do these kids get special treatment?” But I guess the thing is, nobody overtly told me, “You HAVE to go to college.” It was just expected because that’s what everyone around me did. In the same way, I a non- “college-track” kid could see college as scary and unconventional in the same way that I think NOT going to college is. So in a way, I’m the one getting special treatment, just because of the community and culture I was raised in.

Social justice is an interesting topic and one that has many layers in it for sure. As for M, I don’t think I changed her life in that small visit but she seems like a good kid and I hope she is able to pursue her dreams.

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