November 18, 2014

Heterogenous solutions

All students have a responsibility to acknowledge socioeconomic barriers others face.

Privileged students have a social responsibility to acknowledge socioeconomic problems that others face.

A recent, anonymous post on the UChicago Secrets Facebook page asserts, “poorer students here need to stop complaining about this university.” The anonymous writer contends that low-income students should acknowledge their “privilege” in attending this university and should learn to “climb the socioeconomic ladder” with the “manners of well-heeled society.”

The antagonistic post completely misses the meaning of privilege. Privilege is not simply about attending a good university--it is about the multitude of factors that have allowed us to attend this school, and the financial ease of our experience once we are here.

Whereas upper- and upper-middle-class students have the relative privilege of selecting universities with limited regard to tuition, application fees, living expenses, and other financial commitments, low-income students face numerous obstacles in even applying to universities like University of Chicago. According to the Brookings Institute, “the pool of high-achieving, low-income students who apply to selective colleges is small: For every high-achieving, low-income student who applies, there are 8 to 15 high-achieving, high-income students that apply.” Low-income students have significantly fewer resources in applying to college—they may come from schools with poor college counseling programs (if any at all), they have fewer resources with which to study for standardized tests, and they have less information regarding the college application process.

So if low-income students face significantly greater obstacles in attending the University of Chicago, what spurred the Facebook post asserting that these students should “recognize their privilege”? One major factor is ignorance. Many high-income students come from socioeconomically homogeneous backgrounds where awareness of other demographics is limited at best and nonexistent at worse. As a student from a privileged background, I can personally attest to this. I attended a private school from kindergarten to my senior year of high school and spent my formative years interacting with parents who were bankers, lawyers, and CEOs. Growing up, I did not know anyone who was concerned about paying $50,000-a-year tuition or who thought twice about buying fancy dinners and exotic vacations. I had never even considered the possibility that a student would need to work part-time to pay for living expenses. It wasn’t until I started at the UChicago that I realized how one-sided and blind my worldview was.

At the University of Chicago, where we have a socioeconomically diverse population, privileged students should consider their new environment a learning opportunity for empathy and understanding—something that many of us have not yet had the opportunity to develop. We have all worked hard to get here, but low-income students have faced significantly greater obstacles. We should recognize and admire that instead of posting classist Facebook posts about climbing social ladders.

Rachel Corrigan is a fourth-year majoring in political science.