Hacking the gates

Marie Bigham wants to radically reimagine college admissions.

Marie Bigham in New Orleans
Marie Bigham, AB ’95, founded ACCEPT, a group for college admissions officers and college guidance counselors who want more racial equity and justice in the admissions process. Photo by Claire Bangser

In the small hours of July 8, 2016, Marie Bigham, AB ’95, a college counselor at an independent school in New Orleans, created a Facebook group: Admissions People Sick of This Sh*t. Bigham wanted to discuss how to put equity and racial justice at the center of the college -admissions process. 

Since 2014, she’d been protesting against police brutality and for racial justice, but she wanted to do more. She added a few dozen friends to her group and wrote a post titled “Why college -admissions professionals should fight hate and inequity.” She hoped that maybe 40 or 50 people would eventually join the group.

About Marie Bigham

Marie Bigham, AB ’95

Political science

New Orleans

ACCEPT has gotten the attention of Facebook as one of its most active groups.


Accept Group

Fast forward to 2021, and the group, now called ACCEPT (Admissions Community Cultivating Equity & Peace Today), has nearly 6,800 members. The group also has meetups all over the country and in November 2019 hosted Hack the Gates: The Convening, where researchers, practitioners, policy makers and student advocates across the country discussed systemic barriers to college access for low-income students and students of color. Several of the moderators and researchers were from WashU, and WashU admissions officers attended. Bigham had been a WashU admissions officer herself from 1997–2004 and planned Celebration Weekend, a recruiting weekend for admitted multicultural students.  

“I had always approached the work in Admissions through the lens of diversity and inclusion but not equity and justice,” Bigham says. ACCEPT has changed that.

ACCEPT’s discussions have inspired individual change: An ACCEPT member and head of admissions for CalTech convinced the university not to require standardized tests for two years. (These test scores are largely correlated to family income.) And as a group, they advocate for change: For example, they encouraged colleges to delay their accept date in 2020 from May 1 to June 1 due to COVID-19. 

“That one month was so critical for families,” says Steve Frappier, AB ’00, MA ’06, whom Bigham named as co-founder of ACCEPT along with Brandi Smith. Bigham and Frappier met while they were both working in WashU Admissions.

In 2018, the National Association for College Admissions Counseling gave ACCEPT its Excellence in Education Award, which recognizes those who “use their prominence to advance equity and access in education.” Michelle Obama is a previous recipient of this award.

In summer 2019, Bigham left her job as an admissions counselor to run ACCEPT full time. Her carefully laid plans shifted due to COVID-19, but she knows she’s on the right path. “One of the things I’ve learned throughout this is that if you have the microphone, it’s your job to use it,” she says.

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