Kendra James began her professional life selling a lie. As an admissions officer specializing in diversity recruitment for select prep schools, her job was persuading students and families to embark on the same perilous journey attending cutthroat and largely white schools similar to The Taft School, an elite institution in Connecticut where she had been the first African-American legacy student only a few years earlier. Forced to reflect on her own elite educational experience, she quickly became disillusioned by America's inequitable system.
[A] fresh, funny memoir ... James’s voice is swift, charming and surprising, and it’s delightful to follow as her richly imagined dreams of boarding school are replaced by deep friendships, self-compassion and humor ... James’s gift in Admissions is to provide company for Black students in predominantly white spaces. The work of Admissions is laying down, with wit and care, the burden James assumed at 15, that she — or any Black student, or all Black students — would manage the failures of a racially illiterate community ... This phenomenon is about the best depiction of elite whiteness I’ve read, nailing the belonging derived from institutional affiliation, which is therefore impersonal and false, but manifests value in spite of this.
The book is, not incidentally, an excellent memoir. James is unsparing and hilarious about her adolescent foibles, her outré fashion choices and insistence on telling everyone about her hobby of writing erotic fan fiction. Many former intense young nerds will cringe with loving recognition ... James’ generosity toward her younger self extends to everyone she writes about, even the classmates whose racism she describes. Ultimately, she seems less interested in indicting them than in thinking about the system of exclusive education that has encouraged their myopia about race and class—about any lives markedly different from their own—to flourish unchecked ... James has written a must-read book for prospective prep-school parents as well as white graduates seeking to better understand what these kinds of elite schools can offer their students—as well as what they, by their very nature, cannot.
James’s frank commentary and sense of humor provide a trenchant critique of a typical Catch-22: an elite institution wants diversity but doesn’t want to transform itself in order to be safe and welcoming for students of color ... Yara. Indeed, one of my favorite parts of Admissions is how honest James is in describing herself as a teenager ... should be required reading for anyone who works at a boarding school or is thinking of attending one—and, more broadly, anyone who cares about the work of transforming educational institutions. Certainly, I wish I’d had a copy of James’s book when I arrived at Taft, or, at least, that I’d had more awareness about how to talk with students about race or understood at a more granular level that Taft is such a racialized space.