BY KATIE PRINCE '19
I was not suddenly slapped in the face by any great class divide among students when I entered an exclusive liberal arts college in New England. In fact, I felt like a financial equal to my peers, maybe even more fortunate than some because my family was able to help me with my dorm room furnishings and textbooks. As far as I could tell, everyone seemed like me — a middle-class girl from a working family, scraping up money for college through financial aid, scholarships and large loans. I was very wrong.
I am now embarking on the second half of my sophomore year at this college and I have found that the class divide among students are not related to who drives a fancy car or who has expensive, designer clothing or who can afford lavish vacations during spring and winter breaks. Those students exist and I would categorize them as the “wealthy” students on campus. The greater, more painful divide is that between the lower end of the middle class and those at the upper end.
Make no mistake, both parties within the middle class are not on the cusp of survival, but the truth is that the lower end of the middle class is struggling. The difference between the two is that for one group, college is expected and tuition is paid for by their parents, while for the other, college is a great financial burden for them and their families even with financial aid, scholarships and loans. One group gets to go home to see their families for every break, while the other can barely afford to go home even once during the academic year. One works on campus for extra spending money, while the other works on campus to pay for their day-to-day basic needs. One has a beautiful house and car to go home to and relax in, while the other might be returning to a small home that has less modern amenities than their own dorm on campus. One gets to bring their friends home for relaxing, fun breaks, while the other is embarrassed to even show their friends what their life is like back home.
The list of differences goes on and on, but they all point to the same issue: there are students who make daily sacrifices to go to college and are aware of this financial burden every single day, and there are those who simply do not even have to worry about the financial aspect of college.
I am one of those students who monitors my bank account daily and feels guilty for buying a coffee from Raos when I could just take a to-go cup from my room. I am a student who is supported by her parents to the their maximum capability, but already I have accumulated tens of thousands of dollars in debt in my name from just two years of tuition fees.
By no means am I complaining. I made the choice to attend Mount Holyoke College where I believe that I am receiving the best education for myself and I choose to accept the price tag as well. I am thankful every day to be at the institution where I am and to have received all of the opportunities that I have. The concern that I am voicing is the feeling of embarrassment that has crept up on me when I tell my friends and peers where and how I grew up. I am concerned with the social discrimination of where I come from.
I am not ashamed of the place where I was raised nor the means by which I lived — at least, I try my hardest not to be — because, although I had difficulties galore, I also had the opportunity to go to a decent school and excel so that I could go to this college. I grew up in a safe town where I made a few lifelong friends who are like my family. I have parents who have tried their best to support my academic and extracurricular activities within their own financial barriers. The reason I try not to feel ashamed is because my home life growing up has shaped me into who I am today; the way in which I choose to react to both the good and the bad that I have faced has molded me into who I am today. I am determined to not be ashamed of where I have come from because where I grew up is a part of who I am, and I am definitely not ashamed of me.
I believe that the financial diversity on our campus does not have to divide us. In order dissolve classism on campus we must choose to not let material wealth cloud how we view not only others, but ourselves as well.