Thursday, April 10, 2008

On Injustice and Inequality...

Warning: this post is mostly a rant. But I think my point is true.

Candler has a Spring Banquet (aka Candler Prom) every year, a final celebration for the past year. It's a nice, formal dinner/dance (sort of). It requires that I a) wear a suit, b) be social and c) pay $20 for this privilege. Well, I suppose I should say someone has to pay for my ticket. This year, Jill bought our tickets, on account of me being BROKE. That's beside the point.

This event costs $20 per person. This is fine. Maybe a bit steep given the quality of the food, but still, it's not unreasonable. But here is what is unreasonable to me: Candler's international students, of which there are a great many, get to attend for free.

Let me preface the following rant by making clear that I have no problem with international students. I am very much in favor of their presence here. Living and learning with people from a variety of countries throughout my Candler career has been a great experience. They bring extremely valuable insights and new ideas and ways of looking at things. We would miss out on so much without their presence. I am truly thankful that I have met and learned with and from them. My roommate first year was part of a German exchange program. Bjoern was very cool, and I learned a lot from him in our living and talking together. I have no issue with international students. Just wanted to get that our there.

My issue is why we have to pay, and they do not. Candler talks a great deal about justice and equality. But this is unjust and definitely not equal treatment. To be sure, it isn't unjust on the level of issues we normally discuss at school. It is most definitely not comparable to issues such as racism, or violence, or any number of societal ills.

But it is not fair. It is not treating people as equals. And don't try to say "oh, they're international students, maybe they come from poor countries and don't have any money." There are two issues with that: 1) We're all in grad school. Most of us are broke. 2) I can't tell you how many of my international neighbors I see driving brand new cars. If they can afford a new car, they can surely afford to pay for their own dinner.

Back to my point- it is not equal. And I can't tell you how many times I have heard students, faculty, staff, etc. preach and talk about equality and justice and fairness and so forth. So, we have a situation here. To quote Dr. King, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

How can we, as a school (and one could extrapolate, as a Church, or a society), expect to effect any justice or equality on a large scale in the world, when we can't even get the small stuff right? How can we expect to overcome the injustice in the world at large when we continue to inflict it in our own small worlds?

The way I see it, Candler has a few options. One, they could make international students pay just like the rest of us. Two, they could make the rest of us not pay. Three, they could just not have Spring Banquet and avoid the issue entirely (here's an idea- give the money that might otherwise be spent on "Candler Prom" to a worthy cause!). Or four, they could leave things the way they are. Three of these options truly address the issue and are, I would argue, more just. Either make international students pay, or make no one pay. Or we can simply cancel the whole thing, and give the money to the One campaign, or for malaria nets, or any one of a million causes.

The other option, maintaining the status quo, just furthers something that I believe the school would fight against (and does) in other forms. Why is injustice acceptable in some forms, but not others? Who decides what those acceptable forms of injustice are? As I mentioned before, I am not trying to compare this issue with larger, much more important issues. Just pointing out the parallels.

I am, however, reminded of Christ's words in Luke 16 discussing the parable of the dishonest manager. Essentially, the lesson is "one who can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with little will also be dishonest with much." If we want to change the big things, it has to start with the small things. It's like learning to crawl before walking before running. You can't just expect to be born running, the same way we can't just expect to stop the huge issues of our world like poverty or racism or genocide without first facing them down in our own lives.

Candler has a chance to fix one very small thing. Will they? Oh, I doubt it. But I'll at least try to address it in my own life and practice what I preach.

EDIT: After contacting Candler admin., I have learned several things that should temper this response; namely that international students are ineligible for student loans, which has to make attending here incredibly difficult. Additionally, the receive significantly fewer scholarships. I assumed, falsely, that they were receiving scholarships from their home countries or churches that enabled them to journey here to study. Mea culpa. That being said, I have a better grasp now of the rationale. I also learned that the fee can be waived for domestic students who can demonstrate financial hardship.

That essentially eliminates my argument. I give Candler too little credit at times. My apologies.

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