Izzy Cervantes thinks her parents have just about the cutest how-we-met story.
It starts with her mom working the late shift at Burger King.
“My dad’s always been like a weird night owl,” said the 17-year-old from suburban Woodridge. “So he would go to Burger King at like 10 o’clock at night and he wanted french toast sticks. And my mom was the only person that would make him the french toast sticks. So that’s their love story.”
But their love story – and the birth of Izzy’s older sister – put her mom’s college dreams on the back burner. Now Izzy, who has thick, dark hair and a dimpled smile, wants to pick up where her mom left off. Next week, she starts her senior year at Downers Grove North in the western suburbs and is planning to apply to more than 10 universities.
Izzy faces challenges many white applicants do not. Her parents grew up in Puerto Rico and Mexico and are not familiar with college applications and financial aid here. At Ohio State, her top pick, just 1 in 20 students is Hispanic. More than 7 out of 10 are white.
And this year, Izzy is confronting a new source of anxiety: A Supreme Court ruling released in late June with potentially huge implications for students of color.
The decision restricts colleges from considering a student’s race to diversify their campuses. As universities adjust to this new reality, teens of color across the Chicago area, including Izzy, are trying to figure out what the ruling means for them.
“Are they gonna put a sticky note over your race when they’re reading applications, so they don’t see it?” she asked.
Colleges are still planning on collecting racial demographic information, but it’s not clear what admissions officers are going to do with it. And the Supreme Court Justices left the door open for students to write about their race in their personal statements. That raises another question: Are essays a loophole for application readers to give racially underrepresented students a leg up?
“I definitely thought about writing … the essay that a lot of kids write, especially when their parents come from [an] immigrant background,” Izzy said. “My cousin … wrote a really good essay about her father having to immigrate here, and about growing up with that looming over her.”
In the end, Izzy decided against it. Instead, she’s writing about her favorite musicians and what their concerts have meant to her. She wants to go into music management.
“I wanted to lean more into my joys and what I enjoy doing in life, and what I want these colleges to know about me,” she said. “But I definitely feel the same pressure … Do I want the college to know how much I love this one thing?”
Or, she said, does she want colleges to know she’s the child of Latino immigrants?
Before the affirmative action ruling, Izzy thought her Hispanic heritage would help her chances of getting into college. Now she’s not so sure.
“The Harvards of the world always want to have the stories of bringing the low-income girl to Harvard, and getting her through schooling from the immigrant background,” she said. “But now with the Supreme Court’s ruling, they don’t have to have that anymore if they don’t want to.”
Lots of universities, including Harvard, released statements affirming their commitment to equity and inclusion after the ruling was announced. Izzy hopes they back those up with efforts to recruit and support racially marginalized students. Otherwise, she worries, students of color will be discouraged from applying.
“If these colleges were looking more for those students, and less for the legacy students or for the kid who got a super high SAT score because he had six tutors, maybe … it would give a better representation to these schools,” she said. “But we’ll see if they actually do.”
Until then, Izzy says, all she can do is make her applications stellar – and hope for the best.