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Students should acknowledge privileged position

By Jennifer Gray

Section: Opinions

October 2, 2015

This is an issue I take rather personally. I have never had anyone noticeably look down on me, though I am quiet about my economic position altogether.

I consider myself to be middle class—my home back in Oregon is a nice, country property that has its price offset by being located acutely in the middle of nowhere. However, I attended elementary, middle and high schools that were decidedly poor.

I was aware that my family existed at a higher socioeconomic level compared to most of my classmates. Though rare, that distinction was ever prominent. For the most part, no one at my high school ever put on airs about being rich. We all experienced the same pitfalls of our school’s lack of wealth, and there existed a unity of sorts regarding the large class sizes, lack of electives and high dropout rates.

At Brandeis no such understanding is present, as almost everyone comes from a different background. Brandeis is ranked as one of the top 100 most expensive schools in America, so it should not be surprising that many students come from more affluent backgrounds than my own. It would be silly of me to fault another student for being born into a wealthier family and taking advantage of their favorable circumstances.

However, what angers me is when students fail to acknowledge their privileged position. I do not want everyone to have gone to a school as poor as mine in working class neighborhoods, but I want other students to realize that not everyone had the benefit of going to a private school that had courses in anthropology or college essay writing. What I want is for students to realize that not everyone has the money to buy a fridge, microwave and a T.V. just for their room. When a student casually throws out an amount of money almost identical to my father’s salary as an example of an average income, I ask that no one scoff.

Brandeis does a reasonable job in adequately fighting racism, sexism, homophobia and other injustices. However, while the exceptionally poor and the ridiculously rich are addressed, wealth stratification of the middle class often falls by the wayside.

There is an assumption of wealth or prosperity among students in my experience. Not everyone has parents who can easily handle the costs of tuition, allowing more affluent students to, in some cases, take such amounts for granted. I once heard a student casually stating that he was not paying for college; his parents were.

Maybe it is not exactly classism, but these presumptions of wealth need to be addressed. Some students come from families where a parent had to take on a second job to afford university costs. Some students have spending money granted by scholarships rather than wealthy family members. Some students desperately attempt to seek out elusive and painfully hard-to-obtain work studies in order to meet next semester’s payments. Some students do not have the luxury to dissociate themselves from their parents’ money.

I do not call for an address from administration or student leaders or anything of that nature. I do not wish for fellow students to know what it is like to come from a public school that fostered such large class sizes—class sizes so large that they got shut down by the fire marshal. What is needed is for students to be aware they are privileged economically. You do not need to come from the one percent to be accused of casually holding your economic position over others. And that is the problem—the casualness, the assumption and the few instances of blatant presumption.

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