Every so often, Dean Hutch drops in on Student Association Senator dinners to answer questions and give input on student initiatives. On Feb. 21, much of our discussion was on accessibility. Hutch rattled off a list of occasions in which he had personally taken care of students’ emergency financial needs and gave an inspiring speech about the value of our Rice education. Then I asked him one question that snagged on a thread in the discussion, and the whole idea of accessibility at Rice began to unravel.
I asked Hutch what I could do for my international friend who is struggling with an emergency medical situation back home. In one fell swoop, she had gone from low income to lower income, from two sources of income to one crippled by hospital bills. She had barely scraped together enough money for this semester’s tuition and she cannot afford another. As it stands now, she faces an ultimatum: Get help or get out. In Hutch’s response to my question, the ugly truth was revealed: that Rice would provide no help of any kind. He said he was sorry that Rice’s need-aware policy for international students forced her to misrepresent her financial status, but that she was still bound by what she said in her application despite her clear change in circumstances. I was disappointed and disillusioned by Hutch’s answer, which seemed to completely contradict his earlier reports of meeting emergency financial needs.
Hutch is not the only one at fault, but his response is a symptom of a larger disease that eats away at the idea of accessibility. Financial aid may not be under his direct jurisdiction, but tuition affects all undergrads, and affects them unequally. Rice cannot claim that it “fosters diversity” if 11.5 percent of its students are denied equal opportunity based on citizenship alone. It is hypocritical to denounce oppression and discrimination when our own policies use the rhetoric of the oppressor. Rice needs to join peer institutions like Harvard, Yale, Princeton and MIT in offering need-blind admission to international students. Rice needs to stop looking at the rest of the world through money-colored lenses and start living up to its ideal of accessibility.
The reality for most international students is that regardless of actual income, they cannot admit to needing financial aid on their applications. According to the Rice financial aid website, “For international students, a candidate's ability to fund the cost of attendance is a factor considered in the admission process.” This is a clear statement that Rice prefers international students that come cheap. What a great deal, increasing the number of students who are forced to pay for everything themselves and then using them to brag about diversity, 100 percent free advertising. After I broke the bad news to my friend, she had this to say: “I hum when I get nervous, and I have to stop and stare whenever I see a dog. I’m a real human being with emotions and a family, and I wish Rice saw more than just another international student statistic. I wish they saw me as a person too.”