A few weeks ago I traveled to Austin with a delegation to represent Rice University and speak about my financial dependence on the Texas Equalization Grant (TEG). The visit was timed to coincide with the discussion at the Capitol about the appropriation for the TEG. For those who do not fully know the purpose of the grant (I will admit I do not understand every stipulation), it essentially provides money to Texas residents attending private institutions in the state of Texas. The money awarded can be used by students to cover things such as books, administrative fees or gaps in financial aid not covered by loans or other scholarships, for example.
In preparation for our meetings with state legislators, I found out that some senators and representatives did not support the grant because they felt that it was unnecessary. If they had managed to succeed and become a Texas senator or representative as a public school alum, they failed to see why I couldn’t simply do the same.
Hearing that signified to me that there was a disconnect about the realities of what education actually costs for those who choose to go into private institutions. All they saw were dollar signs, which is practical, but not representative of the other sacrifices some of us make to be and, more importantly, to stay in school. It seemed dismissive and I understood truly that my purpose in Austin was not just to fight for the TEG, but to fight against the dismissal of the right to choose where students after me obtain their education and information.
I matriculated to Rice in the fall of 2010 after being at New York University for two years. I left NYU due to many issues, but the most unfortunate reason came from an adviser saying that I should consider something outside of medicine because of my GPA at the time. She did not ask why my GPA was low, and so I did not tell her I was working two jobs while taking a full-time course load and training to become certified as an EMT-B three to four nights a week (a round-trip time of an hour and a half by subway). I did not feel supported in an already overwhelming sea of 20,000 undergrads, so I changed my path and came back home to Texas, and to Rice. It was the best decision I ever made.
But even with the TEG, I have needed to continue working two jobs, one on campus and one off campus doing private tutoring. I also had to move off-campus midsemester to reduce costs so that I could finish my last year at Rice. My mom is in her mid-50s and lost her job last year. and my dad is in his mid-60s and, after being verbally and mentally abused by his last manager, he has not returned to the workforce in years. I have been working to graduate with a degree in biological sciences and, in the meantime, have served as the Black Student Association president for the past year and a half, served as a 2012 McMurtry O-Week coordinator, served as a member of the Minority Interest Committee and continued volunteering with The Mentorship Project before this year.
My point is this: There are many people who have stopped pursuing becoming a doctor because of advice like that given to me at NYU. There are many students who come from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds who are shades of every color, creed, conviction and belief and who really believe that they are not good enough to attend institutions like Rice because someone, somewhere told them so. There is nothing sadder than trying to convince a brilliant high school student that they deserve the best education possible for them and then watch them settle for something less. That is not to say that public institutions are less, but rather, any student who is financially restricted to an institution that is not of their choice is receiving less than what they deserve. If I had let that woman tell me what path I should and should not choose, I would not be a healthy, happy, contributing GRADUATING member of Rice University. I tell you this because my story is only one of thousands who understand that where we choose to gain our education is no one else’s decision but our own.
Coming to Rice was a moment of clarity and immense courage. Being open about my story is my way of offering up one of many perspectives. What you choose to take away and how you choose to act on what I have presented is solely up to you. But when I walk across that stage at commencement, there will be nothing holding me back because I know that I earned that degree just like everyone else before me and everyone else after me. I earned it because I chose to, and while it may not have been the easiest or maybe even the best road, it was my road. It was the road I chose to get my piece of paper — my one thing that no one else can ever take away from me. The TEG helped me to do that. Imagine what it could help another student do.
– Rebecca Isaac is a McMurtry College senior majoring in biological sciences.