when Sciences Po reaches out to neighborhood students

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They took place in the Lucie-Aubrac room of the Marcel-Sembat high school in Vénissieux (Rhône) on Tuesday January 24. Impeccable and concentrated. Around them, a few tables, chairs, shelves loaded with newspapers in cardboard boxes, and through the window, bars of buildings.

Eight high school students settle around Mathias Vicherat, who has come to encourage them. He is director of Sciences Po Paris. They are the class heads of this high school classified in the priority education network (REP), “more accustomed to being talked about for urban violence”, recognizes the principal, François Martin.

For twenty years, this difficult establishment has benefited from a “priority education agreement”, a positive discrimination system which has opened the doors of Sciences Po to 2,400 students from working-class backgrounds, thanks to step-by-step support. Students who sit in the room around their guest will benefit from two years of preparation workshops as well as eloquence lessons. At the end, some may return to rue Saint-Guillaume in Paris or to satellite establishments. Currently, five Marcel-Sembat alumni are continuing their studies there.

“How to reconnect the elites to society? »

What are these aspirants dreaming of? The mood is serious, not over-ambitious. Questions are not asked lightly. “What keys do you give to understand an increasingly complex world? », begins Iram. “We are going to learn to learn, what is your method? “What is an elite and how to reconnect them to society? “I like economics, why should I go to Sciences Po rather than a business school? » For an hour, Mathias Vicherat answers, distills advice and anecdotes. Above all, he tries to convince everyone to dream big and reminds us that he himself was educated in REP. Smiles bloom on faces.

Not always easy, however, to imagine a life far from Vénissieux. For the majority of these high school students, the Sciences Po objective even seemed “inaccessible” not long ago. A state of affairs that Mathias Vicherat wishes to combat. Also, Sciences Po will double this contingent at the start of the 2023 academic year, going from 170 students to 340. With a strong ambition: not to leave anyone because of their modest origins at the gates of this royal road which provided 80% of the first class of the National Institute of Public Service (formerly ENA).

The task is difficult, as the family environment can weigh. Iram, Lola, Nolan and the others embarked on the adventure, often by chance. “My aunt is coming out of it”, “I heard someone talking about it on social networks”, “the teachers asked me for the workshop”, they say. Also, nothing seems certain to them, as some measure the thickness of the “glass ceiling” that they have yet to cross.

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Cross the course of long studies

They come from very diverse families. In some, obtaining a diploma is self-evident, as with Josephine, for example, whose older brothers are “in business and law school”.

A thousand miles away, others have grown up in a world that knows nothing of long studies and school rankings, as with Iram. For the moment, only one of his cousins, an engineer, has taken this course of long studies. Much to the chagrin of his family.

“When he embarked on this path, it shocked my family a lot, who saw this career as inaccessible for people with an immigrant background, like us”, exposes the girl. Will she pave the way in turn and set an example for her two little brothers?

Beware of self-censorship »

In the same way, Lola’s project disconcerts those close to her. “In my family, no one has ever studied for a long time or heard of Sciences Po”, she summarizes. On the other hand, politics is very present in “family meals, which always give rise to heaps of fiery debates”, illustrates the one who feels a bit like the heiress of this militant culture.

Olti, son of Yugoslav refugees, whose father has always struggled to find a place for himself in France, for lack of a recognized diploma, does not really want to talk about his parents. Does he just let go “to be able to rely only on himself and his teachers”. Will he become a hospital director or “small town mayor” ? At least a seed may be sown. The most important thing is to counter “self-censorship”, warned Mathias Vicherat.

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