Uncommon protest


Braving the season's first snowfall, about 50 students—seven shirtless—took to the main quads for a protest last Friday. "Who are we not?" "Harvard!" "Who are we not?" "Brown!" "Who are we?" "Chicago!" Some demonstrators wore or waved maroon T-shirts that read "I am UnCommon," while bare-chested students arranged themselves to spell "UNCOMMON" with red letters painted on their torsos. (One man sported two Ms.) They held hand-lettered signs including, "WWRD: What would Rockefeller do?" and "I love mustard. I'm not common." The latter referred to a 2005 College application question prompted by Costco: "Write an essay somehow inspired by super-huge mustard" and its relation to "impulse buys, excess," and "notions of bigness."

The students were reacting to news that, although the College will keep its unique essay questions as a required supplement, the Admissions Office plans to accept basic information submitted on the Common Application. Almost 300 colleges and universities use some part of the Common Application, including Harvard, Brown, and Northwestern. The University hopes the change, to take effect in the next two years, will encourage more students to consider the U of C, and that it will increase diversity. According to Michael Behnke, vice president and dean of College enrollment, "the percentage of African American students using the Common Application exceeds the percentage of these students applying to the University of Chicago." In an interview in the Nov–Dec Magazine, President Robert Zimmer discussed the idea of reevaluating the application process: "There is, of course, something to self-selection. Nevertheless I believe strongly that there are more prospective candidates who would make wonderful students at Chicago who are not applying."

Meanwhile, almost 1,500 current and former students have joined a Facebook group protesting the change. Group organizer Luis Lara, '08, wrote: "As students of the University we should have a say in such an issue. The UnCommon Application," a term coined in 1998 to distinguish Chicago, "is something we all cherish and it is the reason a lot of us applied to this school." Lara also set up an online petition, which more than 1,000 people have signed. "The long essay options are a key part of it," wrote Elizabeth Wampler, AB'04, "but the smell and feel and wording of the rest are the first steps that students take into the Life of the Mind."

Jenny Fisher, '07

Photos: Students voice their protest (top) and mark a message in the snow (bottom).

Photos by Dan Dry.

December 6, 2006