buildOn Alum Rebecca Garfinkel Fights forHer Peers’ Right to Education

Our buildOn Alum college application personal statement series continues with Rebecca Garfinkel, who was inspired by the inequality in Detroit’s public school system. Read Allison Garvey’s essay and Alan Lin’s.

Last summer, I was selected through buildOn to become an intern for Recycle Detroit, a non-profit based in downtown Detroit. I was on the Wayne State University campus for buildOn’s required professional development workshops along with nine or ten other interns assigned to different organizations. Each of the interns were young women from inner-city Detroit; being white and from an affluent suburb near the city, I already felt like an outsider.

This feeling intensified when, during lunch one day, the girls started complaining about their schools. One of the first friends I had made, Odessa, told me that her English teacher had once called her an idiot for pronouncing a word incorrectly. Her twin, Vanessa, added that in the last few weeks of her school year, the students had staged a protest by walking out of the building during school hours. The protest had been shut down by the police, and students were threatened with jailtime if they did not return to class. The reason for the protest: None of the restrooms in the school were stocked with toilet paper, so the administration locked the doors of every single one.
[pullquote]Each girl had a story to tell of the injustices committed by her school administration.[/pullquote]

Each girl had a story to tell of the injustices committed by her school administration. They turned to me and asked: “What’s wrong with your school?” I stopped short and, incapable of thinking of anything to complain about, bowed my head in disgrace. It was not for anything I had done, but rather, what had not been done to me. I had never been told by a teacher that I was stupid; never had to share a desk with a friend because there weren’t enough in the classroom; never been afraid to walk to school in the morning because of the disappointment or danger expected with each new day. Should I not feel lucky to have had such opportunity in my education? Perhaps, but at that moment, all I felt was shame.

At my high school, to achieve an IB Diploma, each student must compose a research essay on a topic of their choice. Galvanized by the aforementioned discussion, I chose to write my paper on the Detroit Public School (DPS) system: its decline, current struggles, and how it can improve. I was sure to use testimonies from the young women I spoke with in order to communicate the complete injustice that DPS are inflicting on their students. I even created a Facebook Group to raise awareness of the poor conditions in Detroit schools. In short, I felt I had to do something, and this is what I did.

[pullquote]I even created a Facebook Group to raise awareness of the poor conditions in Detroit schools.[/pullquote]

While at the University of Michigan, I plan to apply to the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy during my years as an undergraduate. An education in public policy will provide me with the necessary tools to create real change in the city of Detroit, especially through reform of the public school system. Although my efforts to change the system have been largely grassroots-themed, I know that with a sound foundation in the principles of domestic public policy, I will be well on my way to ensuring that students like Odessa and Vanessa are not cheated out of the education they deserve.

-Rebecca Garfinkel, attended Michigan International Academy, now attending the University of Michigan.