How a Love of Narrative Inspired a Career in College Admissions

USC Rossier EMP online student Marcel Hite wants to give applicants a chance to share their stories

By Kianoosh Hashemzadeh

(Photo/Lydia Daniller)

From an early age, Marcel Hite, a student in USC Rossier’s Master of Education in Enrollment Management and Policy program (EMP online), often told his mother he was born in the wrong state. He grew up in Detroit, but despite there being much to love about the city—from its famed Coney dogs to his high school’s vibrant drama department—he never liked the cold. So, when it was time to start thinking about college, Hite thought, “Look west.”

It wasn’t just the sunshine that brought Hite to the Golden State: California’s liberal-leaning politics also attracted him as he sought a place more closely aligned with his own beliefs. Hite landed at Claremont McKenna College. Although he describes the school as “the most conservative of the five” Claremont colleges, he says his experience there “pushed me into my values even more, especially as they relate to LGBTQ+ issues and issues of gender identity and expression.”

Hite was a first-generation college student and one of only about 40 Black students at Claremont McKenna. He attended a private, predominately White high school, and at Claremont McKenna, he found himself again “trying to fit in by not finding community among other Black folks.”

He was also one of the few students on financial aid. As his peers planned exciting spring break trips, he would either return to Detroit or stay on campus. “It really hit home for me just how low-income I felt on a college campus,” he says.

Following his passion for compelling narratives—sparked by his exposure to theater in high school—Hite majored in literature; he still counts Beowulf and the novels of Toni Morrison among his favorites. At the insistence of his mother, he also majored in psychology.

Throughout undergrad, Hite took a variety of campus jobs—from tour guide to senior interviewer in the admissions office. After he graduated in 2014, he was offered an interim position as an admissions counselor, and he’s been in admissions ever since.

Hite found himself drawn to the stories of prospective students, and his psychology background encouraged him to meet applicants “where they’re at.” After stints at schools throughout California, including USC, he is now the senior assistant director of admissions at Stanford University.

Universities need to understand how they’ve perpetuated systemic racism, particularly anti-Blackness, on their campuses.” — Marcel Hite, USC Rossier ME Candidate

Hite’s ultimate goal is to land a role as a dean or director of admissions, and to reach it, he wanted to further his education and learn more about the ins and outs of enrollment management. When he found USC Rossier’s EMP program, he was hesitant about it being online, but soon realized it would provide him with “a lot of the information and flexibility I needed.”

In particular, Hite cites Professor DeAngela Burns-Wallace’s diversity course as especially eye-opening. “She pushed me,” he says, to look past what he already knew about enrollment, to “think deeper about how to effectively make change, and to be more equitable and inclusive in [the admissions] process.” Hite has also gained valuable tools to weigh timely issues such as how possible changes to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals will impact admissions and an important measure on the Nov. 3 California ballot that could have restored affirmative action.

While the pandemic didn’t significantly disrupt Hite’s online courses at USC Rossier, it did change how he and Stanford’s admissions team conduct their day-to-day work. They had to pivot quickly in terms of how they conduct information sessions and potential-student outreach, shifting these activities to the virtual realm.

As with many admissions leaders, issues of racial and social justice are at the forefront of Hite’s mind these days. While measures such as waiving SAT and ACT scores for applicants can reduce inequities in the admissions process—a step that many schools, including USC, have taken for the Class of 2025—Hite still believes there’s plenty of work to do. “Universities need to adapt to the ever-changing landscape,” he says. “[They] need to understand how they’ve perpetuated systemic racism, particularly anti-Blackness, on their campuses.”

Hite urges enrollment leaders to prioritize a holistic approach and use “noncognitive variables” to evaluate applicants—to give them the chance to share their stories, some of the challenges they’ve faced and how they’ve overcome them. These narratives, Hite believes, can exhibit applicants’ critical thinking skills in ways that a standardized test score cannot.

This story appeared in the USC Rossier Magazine Fall/Winter 2020 issue as “Embracing the narrative.”