Over this break, I’ve been perusing all the articles I can find about Hostos Community College. I can’t decide what Lisa W. Foderaro’s June 7, 2010 article—about Justice Sotomayor’s plan to speak at Hostos’s Graduation—is driving at in its tone. It calls the college “scrappy,” both in the title and in the body of the article. Okay, if scrappy means “poor” and “holding it together” and “pugnacious,” sure. I guess that works. But I also detect a great deal of snobbishness throughout the piece (link here).
For instance, the article seems to congratulate the school for acquiring a new president in 2010, one who “brings a scholarly gravitas to a college where the only admissions requirement is a high school diploma or graduate equivalency degree.” (He went to Yale and Columbia for his own education.) I mean yes, it’s a community college. That’s how it works. That doesn’t mean the college’s scholars and students wouldn’t have any scholarly gravitas of their own, nor do I agree at all that having a Yale degree (ahem!) or a Columbia one ensures gravitas in the first place.
The article seems bent on proving what a dear condescension it was for the (then) newly appointed Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, to “make good” on a promise she made to the school before she received her appointment to the Supreme Court. She’d promised to give a speech to the school her mother attended.
I take issue with the imagery Foderaro uses to describe Sotomayor’s journey from our college’s neighborhood to the Supreme Court. She lauds the Justice for “having traversed an invisible canyon — from a Bronx housing project to Princeton University to a prominent seat on the federal bench.” As if one is bad and the others are good; as if one is a shame and the others are inherently valiant (Justice Alito anyone? Justice Thomas? Really?). The distance the Justice crossed is neither “invisible”—by dint of effort and talent, the woman overcame obstacles both obvious and highly visible to people from the South Bronx, who have far fewer resources than Sotomayor’s Princeton peers; nor is it a “canyon”—it’s two hours by car from the South Bronx to Princeton.
By the way, Sotomayor’s speech, given a week after Foderaro’s article came out, is here: