NY Times got it right. But here’s what they missed….
The New York Times came out with an article earlier today detailing the painfully obvious divide between the classes at the University of Southern California. You have the kids who are graciously given large lumps of money in the form of a monthly allowance used to eat out for three meals a day everyday and purchase Coachella tickets. And then you have the kids who run out of work study in the middle of the semester unsure how they are going to make their rent and pay for groceries for the next few months.
Any one whose been left in such a dire financial crisis as a fully financially independent student can attest to the knot in your stomach and the tightening in your chest when a parent gets laid off and you lose your health insurance. When you’re given the choice between an unpaid internship that could change your career and a menial job that actually pays. When half your paycheck goes towards groceries while the other half goes in your savings for a “rainy day”. Because you’ve known too many rainy days, when your graduate applications are twice as expensive then you expected or when a family members needs to borrow money. When you know that you can’t financially depend on any one but yourself. And it scares you to death.
The difference in privilege is stark between students at USC. But thats not the problem. Everyone is born into different circumstances, and no one should be shamed for something they had no say in. The problem begins when we come to college fully cognizant of the autonomy we have in deciding how we want to treat and interact with people who are different than us. The problem starts when we decided to self segregate according to financial stability for the sake of comfort. As a first generation minority student, I have tried to join clubs and groups of friends that weren’t composed of people who looked like me. I understood the disconnect from the beginning but didn’t see it as a reason to walk away. I wasn’t comfortable not being able to relate to their story or participate in their expensive weekends out, but I nonetheless gave my effort to find some sort of common ground. I was disheartened to find that I falsely assumed the same of my peers. Over the last four years Ive found myself being immediately dismissed by others for not being in greek life, not having the same financial flexibility, and not having the same concerns when it came to life outside of school.
There are students at USC who use food stamps, use the 24 hour library as a roof over their head every night, and who use the showers in the gym because they have no where else to bathe. Students whose parents are the custodians and the people who serve food at our dining halls. They deserve the same respect and consideration as the wealthiest kid at school.
“He cringed when he realized it was just a few blocks away from a welfare office”. This last line of the NY Times article, about a student expressing his feelings towards the location of his luxury apartment, speaks volumes to the real problem at USC. That students have a hard time interacting, creating friendships, and having empathy for people who on the surface don’t look like you.