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The Outreach Gap

Completely real scenario: You go to a troubled high school in Brooklyn. You apply and, miraculously, are accepted to Cornell for the fall. But your parents are worried. Cornell's not in Brooklyn -- it could be a dangerous place, especially for someone like you, a female minority student from New York City.

What do you do?

Completely ideal scenario: You look up your acceptance letter, where the contact info for your local outreach coordinator -- someone from a similar background as you, but who went to Cornell -- is clearly visible. You give them a call and hopefully receive some wisdom and some reassurance. You even put them in touch with your parents.

Current scenario: You ask your teacher, in the NYC Teaching Fellows program, what to do. Fortunately, she's a recent graduate and has contacts in the college world. Your teacher asks a friend, who asks a friend, who knows someone fitting the profile who could help.

But the current scenario won't work for everyone.

Let's review: This student's parents, from Brooklyn, are worried about their daughter's well-being at Cornell. Clearly, we have a public relations problem if Brooklyn is deemed safer than Ithaca. This student, surely in high demand, has to try alternate avenues for information because it's not readily available. Clearly, we have an outreach problem, a gap in Cornell's supposed commitment to minority and low-income recruitment efforts.

A final thought: Why the public relations problem? Does news of, say, a racially motivated stabbing make the rounds faster than news of this year's increase in minority acceptances? When well-meaning activists publicize this fairly isolated incident as merely part of a widespread, ingrained problem, does that discourage more minority students from attending in the first place? Count this as Anecdotal Exhibit A.

Note to media relations officers: Step One might be publicizing Cornell's current murder rate (0).

Andy Guess | Posted on April 16, 2006 (#)

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