After waiting in the administration office—with Jillian’s borrowed blazer scratching the back of her neck—Lizet is led back to a conference room by an older assistant, who urges her not to worry. Each member of the committee is in the room, in the same seats they sat in during Lizet’s initial hearing. Whereas in the last meeting, each dean on the committee had a thick folder full of files in front of them, the conference table they sit at is now bare. Lizet is nervous about what this could mean, and is already mentally saying goodbye to Rawlings.
Armed in Jillian’s blazer—symbolic of her desire to “pass” as her idea of someone who belongs at Rawlings—Lizet readies herself to face the disciplinary committee that will effectively decide her fate at Rawlings.
The oldest man speaks up to tell Lizet that though they have found the claim of “egregious plagiarism” justified, the committee has decided not to penalize her too harshly due to extenuating circumstances. Lizet doesn’t know what this means for her future—a kind woman on the committee, Dean Geller, explains to Lizet that she will be allowed to stay at Rawlings. Lizet will, however, be placed on “a kind of probation.”
The committee has decided that Lizet is not at fault for the “crime” she has committed. As they will go on to explain, their reasoning behind this decision relates directly to where Lizet comes from—an idea that will prove isolating and embarrassing to her.
Lizet isn’t being punished, one of the committee members reveals, because after contacting Hialeah Lakes, they realized that Lizet’s high school had no code of academic integrity. The oldest dean tells Lizet that because her high school did not foster a “culture of success,” Lizet should not be punished for having made an honest error—albeit one most of her peers never would have made.
Lizet is not the average Rawlings student—she comes from a marginalized high school and has had to fight her way to college. Because of this, the committee sees Lizet as a special case—they are willing to cut her some slack, understanding that she has had an upbringing and education that are, in their eyes at least, lacking.
Dean Geller tells Lizet that, having admitted her, it is now Rawlings’s job to help her succeed. Lizet feels humiliated rather than comforted, though she doesn’t quite understand why. The deans slide some papers over to Lizet and ask her to sign the “contract” outlining the terms of her academic probation. Lizet’s grades this semester will determine what happens next; if she does poorly, she will need to take remedial classes in the spring—classes not covered by her financial aid, which do not count towards her major.
This assessment of Lizet’s background as underprivileged is an insult to her—she has never thought of her life in Miami as deprived or insufficient, but in light of the committee’s assessment she is forced to see the ways in which her schooling and upbringing are considered inadequate.
Lizet doesn’t fully understand what’s happening, but she signs the contract anyway, and then feels foolish all over again for having made a commitment without knowing what is expected of her. The committee dismisses Lizet, wishing her good luck in her studies. They tell her that the secretary, Linda, will have a copy of the contract ready for her outside.
In the face of scrutiny and embarrassment, Lizet panics, signing the contract without reading it in a desperate attempt to give the committee whatever they want—perhaps so that they’ll think better of her and see how hard she’s trying to fit in and do well at Rawlings.
Lizet goes to her shift at her work-study job at the library, and reads over the contract several times during work. The contract details a series of “if this, then that” scenarios, and outlines the potential penalties Lizet will face in terms of coursework and financial aid changes if she does not succeed in school this semester. She will need C-minus grades across the board in order to move on to the next set of classes and keep her financial aid package intact.
Lizet reads the contract and sees that she must work harder than ever in order to maintain her place at Rawlings. The school has already demanded so much of Lizet—financially, emotionally, and psychologically—and now she must prepare herself to put even more of herself on the line in order to prove that she deserves to stay.
Lizet is so busy worrying about the contract that she gets spooked when someone goes through the security scanner at the front of the library and sets it off. Lizet jumps in her seat, eliciting the laugh of the boy who set the scanner off. He is tall and redheaded, with a grungy, nerdy vibe. Lizet sifts through his bag quickly and determines that his CD player set the scanner off. The boy introduces himself as Ethan; still dazed and distracted, Lizet does not introduce herself, replying only, “Okay.” Ethan, jokingly calling Lizet “OK,” tells her he’ll see her around, and then leaves. Lizet returns to her desk and begins making a study plan for the next three and a half weeks, determined to pull her grades up by Christmas.
Lizet is so focused on making a plan for how to succeed at Rawlings in the coming weeks that she has no time for anything else. Although making friends was an important part of the first half of Lizet’s semester, as the second half bears down on her, she feels disconnected from those around her and isolated in her need to hunker down and study.