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Underrepresented Inner-City Teens Should Not Have Opportunities

In his censure of the College EDge marketing campaign, "You Had [Insert Privilege Here], Shouldn't Everyone?" Ezra Seligsohn authoritatively states that “everyone should have a family and community,” but doubts that “anyone is in a position to say” that all should have opportunities facilitating their receipt of a higher education. Against our collective value system, he considers it a privilege and not a right, an amenity and not a need, and maintains that opportunities for higher education should belong solely to the privileged, and no others may lay claim to them. An article entitled “Underrepresented Inner-City Teens Should Not Have Opportunities” would likely be immediately disregarded by any reader for sheer outlandishness, and yet could nonetheless serve as an appropriate heading for Seligsohn’s argument.

Among other clichés, this country was founded on the fundamental principle of equal opportunity. Equal opportunity for everyone, that is: not just for those born privileged. That’s actually the point. This same country later declared education so positively crucial, a need so fundamental, that since 1918, every state required and provided a public school education. For some perspective, consider the fact that it took close to another one hundred years for the US to offer a need as basic as universal healthcare. Education has long been recognized as the key to success, a means of acquiring a skill set or knowledge base with which to build a future, while also providing opportunities for upward mobility. This is why we, blessed with the opportunity to do so, chose to enroll here at Yeshiva University. In a country founded on equality, and in a society that places a premium on education, why are we alone privileged with a higher education? Shouldn’t everyone? It is both surprising and disappointing that this rhetorical question, like the cliché, actually needs to be defended.

Seligsohn also compares College EDge to “people who view themselves as superior [and] try to ‘civilize’ their supposed inferiors.” This baseless assumption that College EDge volunteers believe they are “superior” for being “advantaged” undermines and falsely represents their efforts, intentions, and motivation. If we truly believe in equal rights for all, then recognizing when we are relatively advantaged and positioned to share our opportunities becomes our responsibility. We must be aware of any disparity if we wish to create equality. This awareness is by no means an indication of a perceived inherent superiority. In fact, the existence of College EDge proves the opposite: it is because we believe that all are equal, and we are not superior, that we strive to share our privileges with our community. It is he who believes that the privileged alone should remain privileged, and in an unequal distribution of opportunities, who is guilty of considering himself “superior.”

But even worse, Seligsohn’s proposed comparison to people “‘try[ing] to ‘civilize’ their supposed inferiors” implies that our neighbors are ‘uncivilized’, that they do not value, and therefore do not seek, a higher education, and that we, the self-appointed educated elite, have come to impose our values on an unwilling audience. The implication alone is as condescending and insulting as it is false. Our neighbors are neither living in a third-world country nor have their heads buried in the sand. A random poll at George Washington High (Audubon and West 192nd Street) would reveal that its students are fully aware that college is a key to success, that job appointments are increasingly linked to higher education, and that their difficult socio-economic standing and academic background places them at a severe disadvantage. These are students whose parents could not attend college, who are balancing low-paying jobs and family responsibilities with high school, and who face real-life issues beyond the imaginations of the typical “advantaged” high school student. Despite these challenges, while some “advantaged” high schoolers relax at home or pursue extracurricular activities to boost their college resume, many of our underrepresented neighbors enroll in after-school programs (such as Young Adult Borough Centers) for academic guidance and extra help, vying for any edge on their college aspirations. They want to succeed academically, and they want the opportunity for a bright future. Yet they struggle with limitations many of us cannot fathom, limitations they could not prevent, limitations they do not deserve.

And so, in a movement to share our privileges, College EDge provides the edge they want, the edge they need, and the edge they deserve as much as we do, on their College EDucation. And that’s why they thank us.

Should everyone have equal opportunities for a higher education? Absolutely. And we at College EDge strive to make that happen.