Cristina Stiller ’12 gets serious, arguing that Cornellians can’t call themselves “the 99%” from atop the Ivy tower in the hierarchy of higher education.
Readers, it’s not often I write you all a serious column. I like to think of my bi-weekly 700 words as a break for your eyes from Judah Bellin’s lengthy (but delightful, to be sure) tomes.
But there is one trend spreading across our lovely, if sometimes misinformed, campus that my good conscience cannot leave alone any longer: Occupy Cornell.
Two weeks ago, a few dozen students and some local Ithacans gathered on Ho Plaza to stand in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement and demand — well, no one is really sure what OWS is demanding, but Cornellians came to show their support anyway.
I imagine that shouts of, “We are the 99%,” OWS’s famous — if ambiguous — slogan, were the order of the day.
And while that is all well and good for the unshowered masses that have been living in Zuccotti Park for the past month and a half, this catchy phrase is ironic, even hypocritical, when it comes from the mouths of Cornellians.
I understand that the slogan stems from the income gap between the wealthiest 1% of Americans and everyone else. But it seems clear that in addition to this commentary on the wealth gap, “We are the 99%” is also intended to stir up feelings of class struggle against the hierarchy inherent in America’s capitalist structure. This problem extends to all facets of inequality, including disparities in our country’s education system.
Which is why it is so strange that my fellow Ivy Leave classmates would be shouting, “We are the 99%.” I think a little math is in order here.
The Ivy League represents only 59,035 of the 14.4 million undergraduates estimated to be currently enrolled in colleges and universities throughout the United States. Shouldn’t Cornellians instead be shouting, “We are the 0.4%, but we appreciate the 99% as best we can?” It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.
Of course, I would be unwise to ignore that there are social inequalities — poor home life, under-funded public schools, etc. — that prevent many students from even entertaining the idea of attending an Ivy League school like Cornell.
But there is something to be said for the fact that when you compare yourselves to the people in your life who were afforded many of the same opportunities that you were, there is some reason why you were chosen to come to Cornell and some of them were not.
An idealist might say this is not a fair assessment, but we must keep in mind that the caliber of education we value so highly at Cornell comes with the stipulation that not every applicant can be accepted. At Cornell, that number is capped at around an 18 percent admissions rate. With 36,392 applications in 2011, that leaves over 30,000 applications rejected.
“I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study” comes with the unspoken caveat that while any person should have the opportunity to enter this university, not every person can. By virtue of being at Cornell, you’re an elite member of the educational hierarchy.
I would hope that all of you agree with me when I say that every child born in America should have not only the opportunity, but also the ability to receive a college education. But this sincere hope should not preclude us from the reality that, by virtue of being Cornell students, we are still the 0.4 percent, whether we like it or not.
Cristina Stiller is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at email@example.com. Believe You Me appears alternate Mondays this semester.