Would you ever walk up to people and ask them, “How much wealth have you and your family accrued over the years to create your current economic status?” Or better yet, would you ask, “How much do your parents make each year?” or, “How much did you pay for your entire outfit?”
We would never do such a thing because it is uncouth. Instead, we ask those questions within the confines of our own skulls, and we make calculations about people we see walking around on campus, people we sit next to in our classes and even our friends.
So-and-so eats out most nights, drives a used car and always has the latest trendy clothes.
So-and-so is incessantly concerned with spending too much money at the bars, works at his or her job more than his or her homework and struggles to register for class each semester because of nagging account restrictions.
Who would you guess these people are in terms of their socio-economic status? White students? Black students? Asian students? Lower or upper-middle class? Does it even matter?
Yes, it does matter because all of us have played this little game in our heads at one point or another.
All of us have gawked and stared with silent envy at those driving Lexus BMWs, Land Rovers and more.
We have been jealous of the LuLuLemon leggings, the Sperrys and others. In other words, we have all been there yearning for acceptance via material things that we either do not have, have never even heard of or simply cannot afford.
Let’s be real. The University’s stereotype in regard to socioeconomics is that of a wealthy, white campus.
The politicians like to call it class warfare – the 99 percenters versus the one percenters. We should not divide the American people into class because it inherently divides us.
At the end of the day, we’re all just trying to pursue happiness and the American dream. But refusing to talk about it does not change the facts about accumulated wealth and who does and who does not have said wealth.
For context, as of 2010, the top one percent of households, which would be classified as rich or upper class, owned 35.4 percent of all privately held wealth in the United States.
The next 19 percent owned 53.5 percent, which means that only 20 percent of the people owned 89 percent, leaving only 11 percent of the wealth for the bottom 80 percent, predomiantly wage and salary workers. These statistics, however, cast a blind eye to race.
In 2009, the median household income was $49,777. For whites, the median income was $51,861. For Latinos, it was $38,039 for Asians, $65,469 and last, for blacks, the number was $32,584. Clearly, this gives a telltale sign to not only the differences in income, but also the particulars of access to luxuries like education.
Despite our socio-economic background, we are the elites of society. Some even say that education is the new silver spoon because of the exorbitant costs to attend college.
Whether or not one’s parents pay fully, partially or none, we are the elite because we are here. That said, even amongst the elite at the University, there are divisions.
Senior Jen Kroll hails from West Hartford, Conn., and she says, “I’m very grateful to have been raised in a town where people struggle more to work for what they have and the opposite as well.”
While she describes her upbringing as “comfortable” in terms of her economic status, she adds, “My parents were money-conscious and my mother worked odd jobs so my sister and I could do dance class and my dad was a financial advisor, and he had a policy that we know what it’s like to work even if we don’t need to.” She has worked off-campus as a student for the past few years as well.
However, Kroll says, “Sometimes I feel like an outside because I am financially independent, and I can’t just ask my parents for money. I remember I met a girl freshman year who had 15 pairs of Uggs in her closet, and sometimes, it feels like you can’t relate to people.”
At the University, there is an unstated pressure to conform, just like at any other college, but often times, the barriers to entry for social inclusion are distinct.
Junior Jordan Anoma hails from Ivory Coast and grew up there as well, eventually moving to the United States and attending boarding school in Massachusetts.
Anoma, like me, is a tall black male who has been immersed in predominantly white environments throughout various levels of schooling. He says, “Depending on your scene, the night life here in general is expensive, whether you’re going to the bars or you’re in a sorority or a fraternity. For instance, ticket parties are like $35.”
Moreover, as tall black men, we are often assumed to be a particular economic status. Despite the logic of my height, I cannot count the amount of times I have been asked if I play basketball whilst wearing a “Villanova Track and Field” shirt. Given the statistics about blacks listed above, one can also assume that maybe I wouldn’t be here without an athletic scholarship, like many other athletes.
Anoma says, “It’s also different for a lot of my black friends who aren’t going to go out every night or they might not go on spring break to Miami because they just can’t afford it.”
Minority students already feel a sense of alienation and misrepresentation at the University due to the sheer lack of numbers, but Anoma also says, “For whites in particular, since it wouldn’t be their race that would separate them from most students, it would probably be their money.”
Money divides us whether we like it or not. And more than anything, we do not like to talk about our wealth because nobody wants to be labeled as the poor kid who is dependent on aid, or the rich kid who has it all, or the one who is struggling in between.
Still, we play the games in our heads everywhere we go and our class and our economic viability divides this campus in more ways than not being able to afford clothes. It changes who we hang out with and oftentimes, it blocks other students from participating.