As a prestigious honor traditionally presented to the top four percent of the San Gabriel graduating class, the Los Renombrados (LR) award seems to have lost its original meaning.
According to LR committee member and English teacher Jordan Vogel, after the initial qualifications, the committee looks at a combination of factors including the student’s personal statement, growth, and extracurricular activities. Chemistry teacher Ryan Wong, also on the committee, said that the judges have moved away from heavily weighing GPA into the decisions.
Although the shift to a higher emphasis on student involvement on campus is reasonable, it undermines the academic honor of the award and devalues the academic excellence of the students who have placed at the top of their class ranks.
It is unfair to the students who have a GPA well above the 3.0 quota but barely fall short in the high level of involvement of some of the other applicants. Applicants with a higher priority on extracurricular activities are often preferred despite scoring comparably lower in the academic field.
While it is understandable that the change is intended to help diversify the LR recipients, the merits of the students should be equally based on the two factors.
Moreover, despite the blind application process where the students’ names and IDs are removed before review, bias is still inevitably present. The LR committee consists of teachers and staff members who invest their time and energy into helping students. When they review the students’ list of activities, it is likely that they can identify who is who based on what the student is involved in. For instance, if a student was a president of a certain club, there would be only a few possibilities for whom the student may be.
Furthermore, the application given to the 50 semi-finalists consists of two short answer questions; this does not leave much room for applicants to truly express themselves. When the LR tradition was first established, interviews were a part of the selection process but has been opted out for a completely supposedly blind application process. However, in many selection processes, like job recruitments, interviews are a vital part in getting to know the applicant. Interviews allow the committee to get to know the applicant in a way that cannot be done through paper.
Although subconscious bias cannot be eliminated, measures can be taken to help level the playing field for everyone. Aside from the baseline requirements of having at least a 3.0 GPA, being a SG student for at least five semesters, and having no behavior contracts or suspensions, a set of specific criteria should be established. This will allow the LR committee to fairly judge students with different merits on a common rubric. It is hard for the committee to measure every applicant to the same standard if it is not explicitly written out, especially with so many students to review.
The LR selection process should be revamped to give every applicant a fairer chance at earning the distinction.