Shepard Hall at the City College of New York via Wikimedia
Now that “Operation Varsity Blues” has shown afresh the ways in which the nation’s elite can buy admission into prestigious universities, it may be instructive to consider the history City College, the flagship of the CUNY system, and the first free institution of higher education in the nation. Founded as The Free Academy of the City of New York in 1847, City College has long nurtured brilliant students from all walks of life as the “The Harvard of the Proletariat,” and served as an engine of upward mobility for New Yorkers and other strivers from around the world. As the home of the first student government in the nation, the first student-led strike, and the first degree-granting evening program, City boasts a legacy of equity and equality that reflects the best ideals of the city it serves.
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My English composition class at a CUNY school resembles a Benetton ad minus the posing and singular fashion aesthetic. I could run the numbers, but I don’t need to make like Nate Silver to prove my class is almost entirely of immigrants or first generation Americans from a wide range of backgrounds. This makes things particularly interesting when we study the ‘American Dream’, for it’s far more relevant to my students than it is to, say, me — all snug and secure in my status as a second-generation American not living with the hope for citizenship nor the fear of deportation of myself or my loved ones.
One of the materials I use when teaching the American Dream is an article from September of 2013 in The Times about Marco Saavedra, a young man brought here illegally as a toddler in the early ‘90s by his Mexican parents who own and operate a restaurant in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx. Under the auspices of his parents’ emphasis on education, Marco was able to thrive in the public schools’ of NYC and secure full scholarships to Deerfield Academy and then Kenyon College, from where he graduated in 2011. Impressive.
But then it all went south. Literally. More of Andrew’s Story here