High school speech competition examines diversity on college campuses

Third place speaker Namita Shyam competes at the 7th Annual High School Speech Competition held at the Canyon High School Performing Arts Center in Canyon Country on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal

Ten students from the William S. Hart Union High School District tackled the controversy regarding affirmative action in the college admissions process Thursday evening at the Santa Clarita Valley Bar Association’s seventh annual High School Speech Competition held at Canyon High School.

The competition is open to juniors and seniors, but this year for the first time all participants were juniors, according to Jeff Armendariz, the association’s community outreach chair.

Students were given the unique opportunity to present to a panel of Los Angeles County Superior Court judges who live in Santa Clarita and volunteer their time to score them.

The selected topic asked students to consider affirmative action and determine how much weight colleges and universities seeking diversity should give academic merit and extracurriculars versus socioeconomic factors when evaluating students for admission.

“It is a very relevant topic, because it’s exactly what they are doing when they’re getting ready for those applications,” Armendariz said. “They are competing with hundreds of thousands of talented students and how they distinguish themselves is ultra-important, but of course we know there are other factors that are considered by these boards.”

Second place speaker Leon Cosgrove competes at the 7th Annual High School Speech Competition held at the Canyon High School Performing Arts Center in Canyon Country on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal

Many had a unique and personal stake in what they were arguing for, but almost all agreed that the current system is not where it should be in one way or another.

“Affirmative action playing a primary role in college admissions may actually adversely affect the groups they are trying to help,” said Tang Favish, an Academy of the Canyons student. “Color-blind policies do not correct racial injustice. In fact, they reinforce it.”

Tasnia Rasul, a Valencia High School student, agreed and went even further, saying affirmative action is a racial division, not a racial reconciliation.

“Race is not what determines a person’s merit or worth. It is their achievements and what they did with their time that is what determines their success,” Rasul said. “We need to create even playing fields for students, but we do the opposite when we use affirmative action.”

Although Canyon High School’s Estevan Covarrubias believes affirmative action serves as a means by which students can be given an education regardless of who their parents are, he agreed with Rasul that success must be earned, not given.

“Although socio-economics play a huge role in a student’s development, growth and academic abilities, it is not a school’s responsibility to accommodate nor compensate for the disadvantages formed due to socioeconomic differences,” Covarrubias said.

This seemed to be a common thought for some presenters, including Leon Cosgrove, who won second place in the competition.  

“Socio-economic weighing worsens divides in society by rewarding inaction and devaluing hard work,” Cosgrove said.

Others, including Golden Valley High School’s Samantha McCray, disagree completely. McCray said those in low socio-economic backgrounds aren’t fortunate enough to have easy access to high education.

“In many cases, this is where the cycle of growing up in poverty and staying in poverty starts,” McCray said. “If given the opportunity for high education, students could break this cycle of poverty.”

First place speaker Angela Paik competes at the 7th Annual High School Speech Competition held at the Canyon High School Performing Arts Center in Canyon Country on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal

Angela Paik, who won first place, agrees, and thinks equally weighing socio-economic factors with academic merit can promote intellectual diversity on campus.

“Factoring in a student’s socio-economic background encourages an appreciation for things like character, perseverance and determination to rise above a system that is overwhelmingly stacked against them,” Paik said.

This is exactly why Rushikesh Pande, a West Ranch High School student, believes affirmative action bridges the gap between these economic disparities.

“We need to celebrate diversity and reward uniqueness,” Pande said. “Affirmative action celebrates uniqueness and gives underrepresented minorities hope that they can show how special they are.”

Although no student agreed entirely, the judges were impressed with their presentations.

The top three finishers will be awarded cash scholarships of $1,000, $750 and $500, respectively, at the Bar Association’s “Scholars & Bench Night” dinner held next month to recognize the winners.

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About the author

Emily Alvarenga

Emily Alvarenga

Emily Alvarenga covers features and community for The Signal. She's new to the paper and Santa Clarita, but hasn't moved far from her hometown of Temecula, California. Emily graduated from San Diego State University in 2017 and has been writing and reporting since high school.