By Hannah-Catherine Smith, Contributor
When Elizabeth Davis took the stage to announce Furman’s new strategic vision Oct. 5, I, along with the rest of the student body, anticipated great things from our esteemed university. However, as her rhetoric developed with jargon like, “internships,” “study abroad,” “research” and “equal opportunities for all students,” the question that began to boil inside me was, “Well, what have my parents and scholarships been paying for over the last four years?”
Being a senior is hard, but looking back over the last four years and wondering how life would have been different if my university had followed through with their advertisements in admissions left me feeling somewhat cheated.
My time at Furman has been filled with happy memories and sentimental nostalgia. But like most students, it has come with some tough times. Upon hearing the news of what was supposed to be a “new” plan, I thought back to all of the times I have been forced to advocate for myself against my own university. The internships I sought out and secured were products of my own initiative. I applied to three study away programs only to be denied by two and waitlisted by one on the grounds that they were “competitive.”
The study abroad program had been advertised as an opportunity that is covered by tuition and most scholarships. I was overjoyed when I was eventually taken off the waitlist and accepted to the study away program. Yet, my parents were billed for the full amount of spring semester tuition in August. Neither my scholarships nor my parents were prepared to shell out $30,000 for me to frolic around Europe, so we took out a loan. No family should have to take on that kind of financial burden, particularly when part of Furman’s pitch is the incredible study away opportunities available to all students at no extra cost. A more truthful approach would have been a giant asterisk with the phrases, “3.5+ GPA” and “within the student’s major department” or “if the professor knows them” and maybe “only if you have $30,000 sitting around.”
A recent hot topic has been the elitist nature of the internship. My parents paid the university out-of-pocket for me to spend a summer pursuing an unpaid internship. I am optimistic that this new money from the Duke Endowment will be used to help students continue to pursue unpaid internships. However, I am critical of the application process students will have to go through to secure this money. A liberal arts education is valuable to be sure, but practical skills are also necessary.
I also have some concerns with how this $47 million endowment will help all members of the student body. So often, we concentrate on the lower socioeconomic scholars that face great adversity and overcome it despite all odds and need a leg up into higher education. These students are deserving. So often, we concentrate on the high achieving, 4.0 GPA and president of six organizations students who receive money to continue their excellence. These students are deserving. But what about students who fall in the middle? We are hard-working, respectable scholars who love to learn, but may struggle in testing. We care about our communities and involve ourselves in a few organizations so we can put our best foot forward in all that we do. We are the ones that are glazed over by the FAFSA. We are the ones that aren’t competitive among study abroad programs. We are the ones that can’t compete with the GPA of students at state schools in internship applications. We are deserving too.
The point of this op-ed is not to bash Furman or the Furman Advantage program. Despite these frustrations, I have loved my Furman career and am proud to call myself a Paladin. I also realize I am incredibly blessed to have had these opportunities and parents that footed these extra bills. I hurt for the Furman students that struggled with similar issues to no resolve. The point of my writing is to bring attention to some of the issues I have struggled with first-hand. Amidst my grievances Oct. 5, I felt a sense of relief for future students that will not have to struggle with similar problems. It is my hope that Furman will teach students to stand up for themselves through other initiatives. I plead with the University to use the Furman Advantage to truly give every single student an advantage in pursuit of their desired professions.