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On “Winning the Lottery”

March 25, 2010

My college has special funding available for extremely low-income students, funding which is in part matched by the state the college resides in. The funds usually go to immigrants or children of immigrants, many of whom speak English as a second language.

The way the funding works is changing next year, and the changes were being discussed in a faculty meeting last week. It turns out that the changes were going to work in favor of the low-income students who receive the funding. However, at one point, the administrator explaining the changes suggested that the students receiving the funding had basically “won the lottery.”

No, they haven’t won the lottery. You know who’s won the lottery? The students at the school who were born to wealthy white parents (you know, the ones who drive a Mercedes or BMW to class).

What pisses me off the most is that using the language of “lottery” makes it seem as if these poor students are lucky to get funding—they don’t deserve it, see. This is right in line with the ideology that suggests affirmative action unfairly benefits blacks over whites, or women over men.

The program for low-income students is designed to compensate for unfair inequality. Those low-income immigrant students did nothing to deserve to be born in Haiti, for instance, which has been exploited by US economic policies for years. They’re not responsible for their country of origin, or their economic status of origin.

So this program doesn’t unfairly benefit them at the expense of the wealthier students—it is designed to compensate for existing unfairness. But saying they “won the lottery” implies exactly the opposite: there is nothing fair about winning the lottery—it’s a game of chance—so if they “won the lottery” then they certainly don’t deserve what they’re getting.

I better stop writing because I’m likely to vent about this for pages.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 25, 2010 4:06 pm

    This exact problem is one of my biggest pet peeves. When I was in second year, a student who is fully funded by their parents tried to tell me how lucky I was that Canada has such great student loan programs. I am beginning grad school with $60,000 debt from my undergrad, and that could double before I have my PhD. But, I am supposed to be thankful that the school is letting poor single mothers like myself into their program I guess.

  2. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    March 25, 2010 4:41 pm

    Right on. I just checked out your blog and it looks awesome. I subscribed and look forward to following it.

  3. March 26, 2010 10:07 am

    Thanks… I’ve been following yours quietly for a while, and that means a lot coming from you. I’ve never taken any religion courses specifically, so I’ve been learning a lot… and the way you write reminds me of one of my favorite profs who teaches sociology and philosophy.

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