Worth their weight

Eight nights ago, a close friend said to me that acquiescence would be the proper response to the College’s withdrawal of need-blind admissions for international students. Her reasoning was that international financial aid recipients are getting “a wonderful privilege” which they logically should not and could not demand. “How much sense does it make that a college somewhere in America is giving some international girl thousands and thousands of dollars with no strings attached?” was the way she posed the question.

As a whirlpool of flashbacks whizzed through my mind, my answer was, “All the sense in the world.” My thoughts revisited the many students I had met while living, studying, or traveling in Uganda, Rwanda, Thailand, India, China, Malaysia and Singapore throughout high school and college. I still remember them asking me where they were supposed to go after high school ended. The beads of sweat emanating from their hard-working, yet penniless bodies, some walking on dirt roads with no shoes, some studying in regions regenerating from decades of civil wars, or some in cities but still poor, bubbled in my nostrils again. The beads of sweat in those poorer regions didn’t look or smell any differently from those beads of sweat that permeated my classroom in Beverly Hills. Those students were no different. They were no different at all.

Yet, in that world where the giving of wonderful privileges made all the sense in the world, humanity, not balance sheets, reigned supreme. In that world, people were appreciated more as humans than as nationalities, and passports were used to gain access to education, not as a reason for denial. The current crisis Williams is facing, though obviously economically unfortunate and undeserved, pushed the College to revoke decisions that declared its belief in equality and its enjoyment of diversity. Many of us might be puzzled by this, especially when a day like Claiming Williams is so strongly supported by the administration.

The e-mail that Interim President Wagner sent to the student body on Feb. 16 stated irrefutable facts. In the past 10 years the number of international students has increased, as the College implemented a need-blind policy for their admission. As a result, an international student on financial aid costs, on average, $10,000 more than a domestic student on financial aid. Consequently, international financial aid spending has risen by more than 200 percent in the last decade. It is understandable and easy for the reader to see his employment of such grand numbers as a way to immediately, yet passively, shut down any kind of logical argument that could arise against the change. It is easy to begin to harbor antagonistic views against what the administration has done.

Yet, what if we ask ourselves, “What has the administration done by placing these figures before us? Has it not proven how much value it saw in the needy international student body in the last 10 years?”

The administration’s decision has challenged us to ask, “Are international students on financial aid worth the costs they add to the College?” E-mails from Hopkins Hall seem to bombard us with data confirming that the socioeconomic diversity the current international student body brings can be replaced by a richer group of internationals – and that, therefore, the excessive cost of the needy internationals is unnecessary and disposable. It raises questions as to whether they are worth the anguish of the College.

But they are worth it. As a wise professor has inspired me to believe, the value of the needy international stems precisely from his or her making us ask whether he or she has any value at all. For those of us who have interacted greatly with the populations of the world that have conveniently come to our door, we have learned about new cultures, new ways to think and new ways to respect. Thus, our immediate answer is yes. For those of us who have had fewer interactions with this group, we have benefited from hearing languages we never knew existed, from seeing people interact in ways we would never interact and from seeing how determination can land people into a good college, no matter how much their families make. We gain the most every day when we don’t judge people but listen to their stories and treat them as our human equals.

My less wealthy international peers have given me the deepest look into human determination. They remind me that monetary lack is not a reason to not strive, nor an excuse to fail or to fear or to forget to dream. Although the College may not gain from them in financial terms, the genuineness of their humanity and the fragrances of their differences make every penny worth the administrative pain.