One Step Towards Equality: The UChicago Empower Initiative

Courtesy of UChicago News

Equality means being equal. In theory, it means that as an individual within our democratic society, your race, ethnicity, religion, and identity never define how you are valued as a citizen. Your vote should be weighed equally to others, and it is something our democratic society prides itself on.

Unfortunately, it seems as though equality in America is nothing more than a false illusion of the harsh reality.

In this era, it seems as though education is seemingly and overwhelmingly becoming a privilege for only a few. The decision many promising students make in low-income households regarding the career path they want to pursue is seemingly and overwhelmingly defined by socioeconomic status rather than by potential. It is also seemingly defined by minority status.

The American Psychology Association estimates that 39 percent of African-American children and adolescents in America are living in poverty, more than double the 14 percent poverty rate for non-Latino, White, and Asian children and adolescents.

They also estimate that African American unemployment rates are double that of Caucasian Americans, with African-American men who work full-time earning only 72 percent of the average earnings of comparable Caucasian men.

In addition to socioeconomic realities that may deprive students of valuable resources, high-achieving African American students are likely to be exposed to a less rigorous curriculum than Caucasian students are exposed to. They are also more likely to attend high-poverty schools with the highest dropout rates than Asian-Americans and Caucasians are.

Discrimination and elitism have become a huge problem in today’s society. While education is mandatory due to its recognized significance, many privileged families and communities have abandoned hope in reforming any public school education and turning to private schools or charter schools instead. This forces the families lacking the same privileges to adhere to a public school system in which reform has yet to come. Socioeconomic status should never be a limiting factor to a student’s potential.

Fortunately, one university has recently decided to implement a change. On June 14th, the University of Chicago launched the UChicago Empower Initiative, a test-optional admissions process to increase undergraduate college accessibility to first-generation and low-income students. The aim of the initiative is to provide all students more opportunities to pursue higher education regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status and to empower historically underrepresented communities.

The initiative includes greater flexibility in the admissions process to decide which information best represents the applicant, including optional standardized test-scores submission. Successful candidates with families earning under $125,000 annually will receive free tuition from UChicago, among other programming and on-campus support. New scholarships and access programs are also being offered to recognize those who serve our country and local communities, such as children of veterans, police officers, and firefighters.

Currently, UChicago may be only one of the few institutions seeking to empower the potential in every student. However, it is a start of a larger movement to give access to higher quality education that many take for granted. Recognizing that education is a basic right for all is not enough. If we allow disparities in education to slip and let the most disadvantaged populations suffer, how can we convince ourselves of the existence of equality?


-David Chen