March 17, 2019

GUEST ROOM | An Ode to the Rich and Legacies

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The recent college admissions scandal has highlighted many inconvenient truths about the college admissions process. The rich and powerful have a far greater ability to gain access to the nation’s best institutions. By and large, America’s elite institutions are not diverse and give preferential treatment to the admission of rich students.

This privilege extends to Cornell. At Cornell, the majority of students come from high-income families. Approximately 60 percent of the class of 2021 comes from families with a household income of at least $125,000, and one in 10 students come from the top one percent.

Cornellians are understandably upset. Many see giving preferential treatment to high-income students as undermining the meritocracy or demeaning to those who earned their place at Cornell. Many more students see it as a barrier to diversity. These criticisms come from a good place and are in many ways valid. However, I believe few take into account the many ways these students aid lower-income students and make our institution better.

We cannot walk a hundred yards without seeing a building with somebody’s last name. They are where we live, study and eat. Klarman, Court-Kay-Bauer Hall and Gates Hall are all monuments to wealth. They are also fantastic buildings from which every student on this campus derives some sort of benefit, be it directly or indirectly.

Additionally, lower-income students can rarely go a day without considering the financial burden of attending university. We wait for our financial aid packages more religiously than we wait for the new season of Game of Thrones. While we wait for our decisions, we often pray that Cornell blesses us with a healthy grant.

The money that goes to building our labs, libraries and dorms and to funding our financial aid packages does not come from heaven. The money, more often than not, is from the contributions of the one percent via donations or from wealthy students paying the full cost of attending the University. If not for their contributions, Cornell would likely be less accessible for low-income students. The lucky few who would scrape their way into college would likely receive an inferior product, without many of the amenities and great buildings we take for granted.

At Cornell, the interests of high-income and low-income students are not opposed to each other. Low-income students benefit from the presence of high-income students because they help fund our education and grant us the amenities we take for granted. Likewise, high-income students benefit from a more comprehensive education where they are able to learn from a diverse array of perspectives.

So next time before jumping into class warfare, take a moment to consider what this university offers you. Realize that many of the things you enjoy (or perhaps dread) most at Cornell are due, in part, to the contributions of a select few. If you are a financial aid recipient like me, it’s very possible that you would not have made it to Ithaca had it not been for these people.

Rory Walsh is a sophomore in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at rw458@cornell.edu.