Ayana Smith

Perhaps the most infuriating argument I’ve heard  is “Black and Latinx students just don’t work as hard as their White and Asian counterparts.”

My immediate reaction is always “So, are you suggesting that I don’t work hard?”

Then, the person that I’m speaking to will usually retract their words to make an exception, “Well not you, Ayana, your GPA is in the 90s and your SAT score is a 1300.” 

And, I mean, why wouldn’t they? In our education system, hard-work is measured purely by results: numeric values that provide little insight on how hard a student truly worked. And, my stats fall above the national average for all races, so of course I must be more hardworking than my counterparts.

However, the truth is that I’m no more hardworking than the person sitting next to me because hard-work is not always defined by being exceptional on paper.

My peers do everything that they’re supposed to do: they attend office hours for tutoring, form study groups for the SAT, and spend more time than me studying outside of school.

But  no matter how much we study and prepares, we can only go as far as the limit allows us to. 

For us kids of color, that limit is significantly lower than our White and Asian counterparts.

Unlike many of my classmates, I have received opportunities that they didn’t, opportunities designed to compensate for the faults within our education system.

Because of this, I’m relied on by my peers to take on the role of a guidance counselor, instructor, and exam proctor. 

I gave my old SAT prep books to my classmates who couldn’t afford them, I held mock Princeton Review SAT prep and tutoring after-school and during lunch, I sent emails outlining the essentials for the impending college application process, and I reviewed supplemental essays and personal statements. 

All because my school doesn’t have the resources to prepare students adequately for college entrance exams, and it doesn’t have staffing to accommodate the needs of all students: our guidance counselor serves 104 seniors, most of whom will be the first in their families to attend college. 

The truth is that us Black and Latinx students are working hard. However, in this system, hard-work is not the sole factor to success. At least not when access to opportunity is unequal, underprepared educators are taking on the toughest jobs, and  resources are scant in our schools.

It is us students who bear the consequences of an unequal education system, but we should not solely be our responsibility to fix it. A strong public education system requires work from all of you, too. And that education, the one that we advocate for, must start now.  If not, we will all be left behind.