"Learn how to nail your college application, get killer
financial aid packages
and find the perfect college from"...

Get Free Weekly Tips for Finding Money for College + Chance to Win Scholarships

Culture is to Humans as Water is to Fish Posted on:Tuesday, April 15th, 2014


Dr. Noma Lemoine, a nationally recognized expert on language acquisition, and advocate for equal access learning offered this neat analogy at the College Board Equity conference recently:

Culture is to humans as water is to fish.

What the heck does it mean? It’s one of the most eloquent explanations I’ve heard as to why many Black and Mexican American students might be dropping out of college.

It begins the moment Black and Latino students step foot into a primary school classroom.  They are told that the way they speak, dress, or walk is not only different but inferior. The rules of being and speaking that were taught in their homes are judged and dismissed, leaving them completely disoriented and insecure.

Then we question, “What’s wrong with this student?” and “What can we do to fix them?”

So enter the fish analogy.  She explained that if you take a salt water fish and place it in a fresh water pond, it eventually bloats and dies an uncomfortable death.  Similarly, we take underserved students, place them in the fresh waters of the university and expect for them to survive.

And rather than questioning the water, the environment, we continue asking “what’s wrong with the fish.”

She continued that when higher education was put into place it was shaped around the cultural milieu of middle class Europeans.  It continues to teach from the European cannon of literature, philosophy etc.  But clearly, things have changed, and what have we done to reshape the paradigm of higher education to accommodate a new cultural landscape.

Why as a student should this matter to you?  According to Dr. Lemoine, language acquisition is fundamental to learning and is critical to your success in college.  If you want to succeed, you must be able to master the “language” of academia.

But the definition of “language” runs deep.  It is both spoken and unspoken.  It is found in the marketing materials, in the events, in the courses, in the clubs, and support services that are (or aren’t) offered on campus. It is either engaging or dismissive.  In a perfect world, it opens the door for discussion, and empowers students. But it’s possible that Black and Latino students continue to feel left out of the conversation.

A new, more inclusive language is possibly in order.  And I’m happy to report that the rapid growth of Latino high school graduates in these coming years, combined with the alarmingly low college completion rates for Black and Latino students, has raised a giant red flag.

Hats off to the 2014 College Board Equity conference for having the courage to question the water, and spark an important conversation.

While efforts continue to be mapped out, there are some colleges that have already made tremendous strides towards supporting underserved students.  If you’re curious about these colleges, here’s an awesome link Imfirst.org.

Weigh in on this discussion.   Agree…Disagree with the above? I’d love to know your thoughts.

Get free weekly updates in your inbox

Subscribe for tips, insights and news on upcoming offers!