O’Keeffe: Education is a right, not a privelege

Current adventure: Case

Following World War II, the United Nations compiled The Universal Declaration of Human Rights to create universal protection of fundamental human rights. Article 26 of this declaration regards education. The very presence of education within the declaration speaks volumes: education is a fundamental right. Many, or rather most, of us agree that education is a right. It is the most surefire and accepted way of determining the destiny of your life. Want your kids to have a better life than you? Enroll them in the best elementary school. Want to move beyond the borders of your disadvantaged neighborhood? Attend a tertiary university. Want a bigger house and higher salary? Go back to school and get an MBA.

Rarely does the conversation extend beyond “education is a right.” The details, nuances and depth of this statement are far more complicated than education as a solution and means. This is where the language of Article 26 comes in handy.

It says,“Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all based on merit.”

According to The Washington Post there are over 5,000 colleges, universities, and institutions of tertiary education in the United States; this easily ticks the “generally available” box. The “equally accessible … based on merit” is where we fall short and where the controversy lies.

This phrase is central to the need-blind versus need-aware debate on our campus. Currently, our need-blind policy only meets 75 percent of financial need. This may seem like an argument to switch, but need-aware policies, while they meet 100 percent of financial need, decrease the admissions of minority and economically disadvantaged students. Neither of these policies are “equally accessible to all based on merit.”

Leaving students with financial burden, taking their focus away from their studies to pursue a full time job and allowing graduates to face an eternity of debt makes education inaccessible for many families. However if the alternative is admitting students based on their financial situations, a much more biased and inaccessible policy, then I choose the former. Denying students entrance to our school because of their economic background is wrong; it makes education a privilege not a right.

Article 26 also states, “Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups.”

This section of Article 26 relates to the events of University of Missouri (Mizzou) and Yale University, where students took a stand against institutionalized racism, systems that support privilege and the silence, and thus culpability, of administrators in regards to such structural inequalities.

Faculty, professors and administrators should work to not only ensure they are providing the best possible education for their students but also that their students feel safe, accepted and included on their campus. Death threats, derogatory behavior and swastikas do nothing to “promote understanding, tolerance and friendship” on a campus. After silence and inaction from university administration, the students were justified in standing up for their rights and right to education.

I am so grateful for my education and the opportunities it has founded. I worked hard throughout my time at CWRU to create opportunities for myself and set myself upon a path of success. However I have done this with a foundation of privilege: I am white, have a stable family and come from an upper-middle class community. My parents are helping foot my tuition and never have I felt unsafe or unwelcomed on our campus.

My demographic should not be the only one privileged enough to realize the fruits of education. If you are capable and academically qualified, no matter your race, religion, gender, finances, etc. you should be admitted to CWRU, or any college, and feasibly afford it. Students should not feel threatened or blatantly disrespected because of their race or religion.

Currently we are not fulfilling the rights outlined in Article 26. If our measly 75 percent financial aid coverage, Mizzou or Yale have showed us anything, it is that we must own up to, contemplate and tackle the systems of tertiary institutions that favor the privileged.

Education should not be a privilege because it is our fundamental human right.

Heather O’Keeffe is a senior studying biomedical engineering and minoring in sports medicine. She hitch hiked when she was two.