Zacks ’15: Should financial aid be the University’s top priority?

Opinions Columnist
Friday, October 19, 2012

Last spring, the Herald poll revealed that a plurality of students – 37.8 percent – believe increasing financial aid ought to be the University’s top priority, a far greater percentage than that supporting the second-place priority – improving on-campus housing. Yet anyone walking through the newly renovated Keeney Quadrangle would find these statistics hard to believe. To an outsider, we as a community seem far more concerned with flat-screen televisions and multitasking swimming pools (Moraff ’14: “Hiking tuition and blowing money on sparkly things” Sept. 27) than with a more just financial aid policy.

Financial aid should be our top priority because education should be affordable. Brown students should not walk through the Van Wickle Gates and into the world with $20,000 in student loans to repay. The Brown community is made of individuals, and who those individuals are and where they come from matters. At the moment, Brown is need-blind only for domestic first-year applicants. International, transfer and Resumed Undergraduate Education program applicants are admitted on a need-aware basis. An international student myself, I have seen the implications of this policy on the composition of the international community at Brown. Most international admits come from wealthy families, while the demand for diversity is met through the United World College schools, which pay a significant portion of their students’ tuition. The result is a homogenous international community, a far cry from the list of countries represented on campus.

This homogenizing effect is not unique to international admits, and its consequences for diversity should concern us all. Diversity is not only important for its value in our individual experiences. Increased financial aid that puts a focus on diversity has the potential to transform the discourse on key issues within the university as well as to address historical injustices and work for social change. The latter finds expression in the recommendation of the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice Report to gradually make Brown a need-blind institution for international applicants and make special efforts to recruit applicants from Africa and the West Indies, “the historic points of origin and destination for most of the people carried on Rhode Island slave ships,” as the report states.

As an institution, we must assume responsibility for our history. That the University has virtually ignored the Steering Committee’s recommendations is an inexcusable moral failure on our part. We continue to squander our budget on Building Brown, but Brown is already built – it was built on the suffering of African and African-descended slaves. It is time we suspend the construction work and rethink our priorities.


Mika Zacks ’15 thinks financial aid can improve our diversity and work for social justice. She can be reached at

One Comment

  1. That’s all good. We must clean house first. Disproportionately, applicants from two particular countries cheat to get admitted, cheat to get financial aid, and succeed. By cheating, I mean that they fabricated their high school transcripts, and hired “professionals” to write application essays for them. They fabricated their families’ non-U.S. tax returns. Brown office of admissions and financial aid is too incompetent to check on this. Some of the cheating is quite obvious and easy to spot. The Deans of College spotted them when they read entering freshmen’s letters to academic advisors. Still, nobody does anything.

    Brown University tolerates cheating, just like Harvard does. Social justice is fine and good. But really, first things first. So, Mika, I would invite you to adopt this one as your other mission. You will find out that Deans’ are even more skillful at giving the run-around on legitimate inquiry, than students are. So, that’s another thing. The people who run Brown are spineless. So you (Mika) are going to need all the luck that you can get.

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