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Chasing Harvard

Kamaria Porter | Tuesday, March 23, 2004

When I chose to come to Notre Dame, two main attributes influenced my thinking: its Catholic foundation and its prestige. In my Jesuit educated, black Catholic 18-year-old mind I figured this University would be an adequate fit for my intellectual curiosity and social concern. These past two years have marginally refuted those hopes, yet I held onto the future benefits, the excellent education and good reputation Notre Dame stood to deliver. Yet, even that vision is not a definite possibility.I am not one of the wealthy students. The contribution of generous benefactors and substantial sacrifices by my family allows me to attend this school. Mounting tuition makes me apprehensive about my ability to complete my study here comfortably without heaping amounts of debt or disadvantage to my loved ones.Tuition of prestigious universities climbs higher each year across the board. Yet, my disgust at the 6.9 percent tuition hike here stems from the revelation of a better and more just way for low income students like myself to access acclaimed college programs: the Harvard way. Last month, Harvard announced a new financial aid and admissions initiative to ease the burden of low-income students, increase economic class diversity and improve its local community relations. Harvard students from incomes under $40,000 will pay nothing towards tuition and others with incomes falling between $40,000 and $60,000 will receive a substantial increase in financial aid. Admissions department will vigorously recruit excelling low income students who would normally never consider Harvard based on tuition. Lastly, to revitalize their position in the Boston community, Harvard will institute the Crimson Summer Academy for outstanding high school students from low-income families. The program will offer these students academic support, mentoring and encouragement to make college a reachable and useful goal. Not only is this delightful program free, but Harvard also will pay for the student’s transportation costs, medical insurance and meals, provide a stipend to cover forgone summer wages and reward completion with a $3,000 scholarship to any university. Through this decision, Harvard is recognizing class as an important aspect of a student’s academic persona and breaking down barriers for a pool of eager and widely neglected students.In many discussions with professionals here, I have gotten the sense Notre Dame harbors some Harvard envy. Who could blame it for striving to be the best? Yet, as a Catholic institution, Notre Dame ought to fill its own authentic niche, which I feel is currently lacking in many parts.Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, has rich working and lower class origins. The New Testament, the foundation of our faith, depicts a new world order and the process by which we can achieve it. The Gospels call Christians to be bearers of goodwill, advocates for peace and promoters for economic justice. The revolutionary message of Jesus attracted followers from the underside of society – women and the poor flocked to this ideology based on the dignity and beauty of all humanity – not on property and wealth holdings. Catholicism all over the world reaches out to the poor and oppressed, and not only with spiritual relief. People of faith immerse themselves in struggling communities, becoming one with the poor and working alongside them to bring about changes in power structures, evident in the extraordinary lives of Archbishop Oscar Romero and Dorothy Day, two of the greatest example of the Catholic existence.When administrators resist pleas for certain programs by asserting the need to maintain the Catholic nature of this institution, I say it is rhetorical nonsense. A school with a sizeable business school, ROTC program, un-unionized workers and a wealthy apathetic student body seems pretty secular to me. I say, put your policies where your mouth is and make this University a beacon for Catholic Social Teaching and the Christian mission in the world, which ought to be highlighting instances of injustice, campaigning against war, eradicating poverty and cooperating with organizing drives for worker’s rights. Things like the Preferential Option for the Poor, radicalism and Conscientious Objection say Catholicism to me, but certainly not to Notre Dame. I call the University to adopt a financial aid program like Harvard’s, to give lower income scholars a chance to study here. Economic downturns may shake our $3 billion-plus endowment and merit tuition hikes, but I call you to think of what a faltering and unfair economy does to low income families with zero assets. There is no comparison with the level of damage experienced. Without help, an entire class of Americans is denied access to schools like Notre Dame. To allow this to happen is an atrocious sin and a rejection of our Christian call. So, let’s chase Harvard on this one because leveling the field, easing the burden on the poor and promoting justice is such a Catholic thing to do.

Kamaria Porter, a sophomore history major, would like to thank Mr. Larry Costin, Mr. Sturm, Mr. and Mrs. Connolly, Mr. Ken Meyer and her family. Her every effort is to merit their generosity. Contact Kamaria Porter at kporter@ nd.edu.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.