On being a brown American

I just got back from lunch with a dear friend of mine. We hadn’t seen each other in over a year because I live in the city and she lives in a rural town about 6 hours away. I was excited to catch up and see where she was on her medical school applications when she told me she basically has to wait another year to apply because of one man human male.

Typically when you ask for a reccomendation letter for a professional or graduate program you have to write it yourself. You write it, they review and change it, then they sign it and send it. This was not the case with this recommender, he offered to write the letter himself which he did, unfortunately. It wasn’t until she was sitting across from a member of an admissions committee at a school she was interviewing at when they opened her folder and she saw the letter. He had written two paragraphs explicitly stating that he did not recommend her and why.

Initially she was shocked to find out that someone she had worked so closely with her and been such a positive mentor would do something like that. I know everyone doesn’t have to ask for recommendation letters but typically you get one of two answers: of course I would be delighted to, or I don’t think I am the right person to write that letter. The first is a yes, the second is a very nice way of saying no. I have never heard of someone agreeing to write a letter and then explicitly not recommending the applicant. Why go through the trouble? Why not just tell her; are you deliberately trying to keep her out of medical school?

Of course she was puzzled too so she started asking around. She discovered he has done this to several other “brown” (Indian) students in the past. He even refuses to recommend certain students until they complete multiple masters degrees, coincidentally none of those students are white. Luckily she found out and can make sure that letter doesn’t go to other schools but more importantly, is this institutionalized racism?

“Is this what institutional racism looks like?”

He is a member of an institution (a university) and it seems he does make a practice of this. For this one man it seems he is deliberately treating students differently because of their skin color, but is he just a bad egg or is this part of a larger trend in the academic system? I told her to talk to a lawyer because it isn’t fair to the next kid that he does it to. She has connected with multiple other victims of this man’s deliberate hatred and has seen the pattern. I hope they are able to come forward and expose him for who he is?

Has anyone else in Academia experienced a similar trend recently?

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