Several days ago, we visited a Zimbabwean refugee school on Albert Street in Johannesburg. Our group of eleven broke off into smaller groups of three, each of which engaged with a different classroom of high school-aged students. We had been told on the car ride there that whether we would able to establish a rapport with the students was unpredictable: each year, it depended on the group and the classroom in question. And so, I began our visit with a great deal of excitement and some apprehension.
The students astounded me. Yes, there were some silly moments—one kid wanted to know if people in China ate every kind of meat—and there was a brief but lively discussion about dating. Yet much of the conversation rotated around serious political and social issues. They asked about the U.S. response to the Nigerian kidnapping crisis, crime and homelessness in America, and how American people felt about the first black president. It was evident from their questions that they were well-read, well-informed, and highly inquisitive by the standards of any country.
As we left, we were approached by a student in the senior class who was looking at schools. Rachel and I urged him to come to Duke. We told him that if he were to be accepted, Duke would cover all financial costs. Later, we discovered that each year, Duke provides only around twenty to thirty scholarships to international students, the majority of which are merit awards. Even if he were to qualify, he would have to go through a wildly complicated application process.
It saddens me to think there are brilliant students all over the world who are deprived of an education simply because of the circumstances to which they were born. Duke is one of the great bastions of scholarship because it has opened its arms to American students of all races, classes, and backgrounds. It is our diversity of experience and thought that makes us extraordinary. Understandably, as an American institution, Duke must put the interests of American students first. I cannot imagine, however, that more cannot be done for the Albert Street School students, who by all rights should be the doctors, lawyers, and engineers of this world.