As a bereaved mother, Sarah White only wanted the best for her son. After he gained admission to one of the world’s most prestigious universities – Cambridge University – she had high hopes that he would thrive in an environment where his intellectual curiosity could be nurtured. Instead, she says her son was treated as a problem from day one.
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When Sarah’s son began university, many of his new classmates were already familiar with each other due to their shared backgrounds and experiences at exclusive schools and prep academies. He felt isolated and out of place; despite being academically brilliant, he did not feel like he belonged among his peers.
He soon became overwhelmed by the workload and expectations of Cambridge University, which Sarah believes resulted from the university having limited resources to support its students with additional needs. Her son was subjected to intense scrutiny and had to overcome numerous bureaucratic hurdles to access the necessary support he needed.
Eventually, Sarah’s son dropped out of the university due to the difficulties he faced, which she finds heartbreaking. “It’s such a waste of talent and potential,” she says. “He worked so hard for this opportunity, and I wanted him to have the best possible chance at succeeding – but instead, he felt like he was being targeted as an outsider from day one.”
Sarah is now calling for universities worldwide to rethink their approach when admitting students with additional needs, arguing that the current system is too biased towards privileged backgrounds. She believes universities must take a more holistic view of applicants and ensure they have adequate resources to support all students.
“No one should be made to feel like a problem,” she says. “I want my son’s experience to be a wake-up call for other universities – we must do better when it comes to supporting our future generations.”
Sarah was recently awarded an MBE for her tireless advocacy for young people with additional needs, highlighting the importance of addressing inequality in education. Her story has been covered by major news outlets worldwide, inspiring others who may have felt they didn’t belong to speak out and fight for their rights. Perhaps, Sarah’s story will catalyse a much-needed change in how universities treat students with additional needs.
Only time will tell – but Sarah remains hopeful that her son’s experience can make a difference for future generations of students. She says, “I just want my son’s story to inspire others to keep fighting – no matter their challenges.”
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