A group of nearly 40 New York City elected officials along with students are calling for the Hunter College High School to suspend its entrance exam this year and for the school to revamp its admissions process in order to diversify the student body.
Elected officials sent a letter to CUNY Chancellor Felix M. Matos while members of Hunter Students for Diversity sent a 27-page-long letter to college and high school leadership pushing for the change on Monday. In the letter, students list a number of demands to increase diversity at the high school with the first requiring school leadership to release statics on students eligible for Hunter’s entrance exam versus those who actually sit down for the test.
Other demands include revamping the school curriculum to include more writers of color, educating faculty and staff on racism in the classroom, and hiring one administrator dedicated to increasing diversity among students and faculty.
Hunter rising senior Amanda Cui said during a Zoom press conference hosted in partnership with the Public Advocate’s office on Monday that although she is grateful for the opportunities that have been presented to her at Hunter she questions whether benefits she could have received by attending another, more diverse high school.
“I constantly wonder what my high school experience would have been like if I never got into Hunter if I went to my local high school and were surrounded by people with a similar background as me,” said Cui. “Maybe I wouldn’t have imposter syndrome at such a young age, maybe I would have felt more confident and less isolated and far more hopeful.”
Cui is a first-generation Asian American student who comes from a low-income household. “At Hunter, I constantly feel like I’m at the bottom rung of the ladder,” she added. The final pages of the letter are filled with student and faculty anecdotes about Hunter’s environment of “casual racism” made them feel excluded. Some of the “anecdotes” are general comments about the school’s Eurocentric arts and literature curriculums while others are far more disturbing stories.
“When one of my English teachers read the n-word in a book we were reading, I was shocked. We all were. I remember taking a look around the classroom and seeing everyone make nervous eye contact with one another,” wrote one student from the class of 2020. ” Meanwhile, [the teacher] had their face burrowed in the book and continued to read as if nothing happened. This stood in stark contrast to my sophomore English teacher, who prior to reading “Huckleberry Finn,” facilitated a discussion amongst the class about why saying the n-word was wrong, even when it had been written that way.”
Out of the city’s 1.1 million public school students, 25% are Black, 40% are Latino, about 16% are Asian and 15% are white, according to Department of Education data. But at Hunter, Black and Latino students are severely underrepresented with only 2.4% of the school’s students identifying as Black and 6.2% identifying as Latino during the 2018-2019 school year, according to the letter.
In addition, while roughly 73% of New York City public school students come from lower-income households, only 9% of Hunter students that same school year were reported as being economically disadvantaged.
The letter, which reads more like a research paper, fleshes out how Hunter’s diversity problem and culture of “casual racism” has worsened over the last 25 years. In 1995, the number of Black students entering the 7th grade at Hunter was three times as high than what it currently is.
“We know that we are presently in a time where Justice and Equity is the call of the day.. and we want to make sure that this issue that involves Hunter College High School which can be immediately remedied is addressed,” said New York City Councilmember Inez Barron, chair of the committee on higher education, during the Zoom press conference. Electeds are expecting CUNY and Hunter College High School to make progress in addressing the demands outlined in the letter by the time the committee holds its preliminary budget hearing next month.
“The University administration takes the concerns expressed in the letter very seriously. We are working with Hunter College to ensure HCHS’s admissions practices are consistent with the values inherent in CUNY’s mission to afford equality of opportunity to all students, regardless of background or means,” said CUNY spokesperson Frank Sobrino to amNew York Metro.
The call to end Hunter’s entrance exam comes as the city is trying to modify middle school and high school admissions and phase out public school Gifted and Talented programs.