Harvard recently announced that it would not support a Freshman Enrichment pre-orientation program geared towards low-income students. Our writers weigh in on what Harvard can do to better support its most vulnerable students, offering suggestions for future proposals.   Image Source: Wikimedia/Bostonian13


Campus | April 11, 2017 at 10:00 am

More than Income: Addressing The Educational Gap


Dean Khurana’s rejection of a summer pre-orientation enrichment program has recently been met with criticism by proponents of the policy. Savanna Fritz, the creator of the proposed program, argued in her recent Crimson op-ed that the rejection of the program was tantamount to “letting down” lower-income students. However, a hypothetical week-long summer program based on socioeconomic status alone would encounter several problems, including the exacerbation of existing stigmas and a lack of sufficient time to comprehensively run the program. It would be more beneficial for Harvard to create a summer-long program focused on bridging educational differences that exist within the incoming freshman class.

Instituting a “low-income” pre-orientation program at Harvard might exacerbate existing stigmatization of students who come from certain backgrounds, not only by others but also by students themselves. By self-selecting into a “lower income” pre-orientation program, students reinforce notions of being socially and economically disadvantaged. Students who enroll in such a program may not only begin to challenge whether their acceptance into Harvard came about because of their socioeconomic status, but also question their ability to compete with wealthier peers. We must consider how many students would willingly enroll in a “poor kids” pre-orientation group.

Rather than focusing the issue on socioeconomic status, it is more prescient to address the issue of educational disparity. Fritz addressed the existence of educational gaps between different high schools, including the gap between many public and private schools or between urban and rural schools in America. This has more to do with educational background than with socioeconomic status, although the two issues are certainly related. But for lower-income students who graduated from some of the top high schools in the nation, a low-income pre-orientation program does not seem particularly useful.

By refocusing the issue on educational background—quality of secondary school education—activists like Fritz will find the Harvard administration more receptive. After all, other administrations have already instituted programs like this. At Princeton, the Freshman Scholar Initiative program (which Fritz herself mentions) attempts to address issues of education rather than income disparity. Thus, it’s likely that advocating for this type of program would be a more effective strategy in trying to gain support for any new summer initiatives.

Currently, one of the only administrative nods towards those who come from less privileged education secondary school background is the remedial Expos 10 section, a course designed for those who come from less writing-intensive backgrounds. Besides writing, however, very little guidance exists for those who are less grounded in mathematics or science, for example. Fritz mentioned the lack of guidance she observed while choosing the correct calculus course at Harvard. As such, the proposed one-week length of the program would  not be enough to address the issue of the educational gap that Fritz raises in her article.

Rather than create a pre-orientation program based on socioeconomic status, it would be more effective to form an academic initiative that focuses on preparation for Harvard’s academic standards, not only in the humanities and writing, but in STEM as well. Such a program would last the entire summer, giving more depth than a pre-orientation program could in a few days. A program that focuses on narrowing the educational gap is not only more likely to be adopted by the University, but also avoids the stigma of being labeled as a “poor kids program.”

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