Last week, The Herald reported Brown’s announcement that it will consider undocumented applicants and applicants who qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program as domestic applicants in the admission process. By placing these applicants under the need-blind admission policy, Brown has become a more inclusive and accessible institution than it was before, though by no means perfect. At the risk of sounding cliched, it’s a step in the right direction.
While the announcement was unsurprisingly met with approval on campus, some reporters at Fox News disagreed. In the “Campus Craziness” segment of “On the Record with Brit Hume,” Hume disputes the rationality of the decision. In the same bit that disparages a Michigan Board of Education’s policy allowing students to choose a bathroom matching their gender identity, he critiques Brown for granting aid to illegal immigrants “but not foreign students in the country legally.” Both are cited as examples of “P.C. run amok in our nation’s schools,” according to the video’s description on Fox News’s website.
Normally, I wouldn’t advocate responding to every offensive sound bite you happen to overhear — I would never get any work done and my patience reserves would be fully depleted at this point. Fox News has a long and storied history of critiquing Brown (hi, Jesse Watters), so perhaps this was unsurprising and relatively minute in the scheme of things. But in this case, I was proud of the decision Brown made. It’s rare that an institution like Brown takes an action that is so unambiguously “good” — refer to the controversy around the release of the Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan if you’re not convinced. Unfortunately, this is a very real debate in the sphere of higher education — Alabama and South Carolina expressly prohibit undocumented students from attending public postsecondary institutions, for an extreme example. Rationale that supports such bans and undergirds the Fox News “craziness” argument is dangerous. It misconstrues the purpose of providing aid and totally flubs the real meaning of political correctness.
Financial aid is a normative tool. We’ve decided as a society that access to education should not be solely decided by market powers — some sort of intervention is required. Accordingly, access to educational opportunity is a quintessentially American ideal (though not one we regularly meet). Financial aid is one mechanism among many meant to equalize an otherwise uneven playing field. Criticizing the admission policy for giving an “advantage” to undocumented students is akin to criticizing the new First-Generation College and Low-Income Student Center for supporting only this particularly marginalized group.
In an ideal world, Brown would be need-blind for all applicants. But, to draw from my ECON0110: “Principles of Economics” experience, the size of the pie of aid available is limited for now. Thus, setting the criteria by which we allocate it requires tradeoffs. If the purpose of aid is to open doors to educational opportunity, the effect on undocumented and DACA-status students is unparalleled. Just to apply to college (not necessarily even to a school like Brown), undocumented students overcome challenges beyond their control and with no satisfactory solution. For example, merely filling out the FAFSA requires a social security number, for which students who don’t qualify for DACA are ineligible (not that the bureaucratic hoops are easy for those who do). In addition to the regular obstacles and fear everyday life may pose to undocumented students, the already-difficult tasks of applying to and paying for college are exacerbated by their status.
The factors affecting undocumented and DACA-status students are beyond their control, and options for postsecondary education are extremely limited. This is less true for international students, for whom higher education in the United States is often an option among many. When we talk about access to K-12 education, Americans often assert that zip code shouldn’t affect the quality of a kid’s schooling. Somehow we’re much less sympathetic when it comes to undocumented students. This issue is not about political correctness — it is about exercising empathy and reason to understand the difficult circumstances facing undocumented students and the fact that the vast majority of them are undocumented not because of some selfish choice on their part or their parents’ but because political and economic inequities drove them to our country. This is not about political correctness, as Hume claims, but it is about politics, as some with nativist and nationalist inclinations cast the specter of PC culture like a veil over the American ideals behind Brown’s new progressive policy.