When Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor visited Pomona College’s Bridges Auditorium last night, Oct. 22, students saw a compelling discussion on a range of relevant topics. Sotomayor wrote extensively in her memoir “My Beloved World” about her experience being a low-income first-generation Latina student at Princeton and Yale. Thus, it was not surprising when she received three questions, one from the moderator and two from students, asking for advice on how such individuals should navigate the world of top-tier institutional elitism, a system originally designed for white upper-class students.
She explained that these individuals need not lose their identities, but instead must compensate for their disadvantages by gaming the system better than everyone else. To be respected, one must learn the ways of the institution, and then master them better than those who they were designed for. This is a new perspective at the 5Cs, where many feel that the schools themselves needs to change or enact new programs to make underrepresented students feel more welcome.
While we appreciate her perspective, no doubt based upon years of experience, the answer seems inconclusive, or perhaps simplifies the issue in ways that don’t represent the matter's significance. By her own admission, Sotomayor is more of a reformist than a revolutionary, so her perspective, while valuable, only tells part of the story. Underrepresented students should learn and adapt to a certain extent, but institutions need to constantly change so that underrepresented students can feel a sense of belonging. After all, college is a place where shudents should feel challenged but also accepted. Students of color, to some degree, do need to adhere to the narrow-minded founding standards and expectations of the college, but as Sotomayor's example demonstrates, that doesn’t mean that their identities as people of color and their identities as students in higher education need to be mutually exclusive.