Strains of social mobility breed frustration among Wellesley women
Published: Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Updated: Monday, February 20, 2012 18:02
For most of my time at Wellesley, I have felt angry and like I did not belong. Coming from a low-income, working-class background, I feel that only a small part of the Wellesley community has understood my needs and problems. Through my internship with the non-profit organization Class Action, I wrote a piece that expressed my anger and its cause. I assumed that my piece would be a good way to vent, and then I could move on, perhaps a little less angry. What happened, however, was that my piece broke every record for classism.org and gained wide publicity through the alumna site wellesleyunderground.com. The response on the websites, as well as the vast amount of personal emails and Facebook messages I received have made me realize that I am anything but alone in my feelings. The main point in my piece and in this article a particular anger caused by the prejudice of classism. I strongly urge anyone who feels similarly to join me in speaking out about the problem. Issues of class affect everyone differently, based on their experiences as well as their identities. I'm hoping that this article, along with my previous piece and the meeting planned for this Friday, will be enough to start the discussion and changes that will be necessary to end classism on Wellesley's campus.
Wellesley is one of few private institutions for higher learning that practice need-blind admissions. In other words, the ability, or inability, of a student to afford Wellesley tuition is not a factor of admission. Wellesley also states that the college "is committed to meeting 100 percent of the demonstrated financial need of every admitted student." Most people agree that Wellesley does an excellent job of giving every high school student an equal chance of being admitted, as well as making itself a viable option to any student who is admitted. Income information of the class of 2015 puts 9 percent of students as having a family income between $0-29,999 and 17 percent with an income between $30,000-$59,999. Wellesley does an excellent job of providing for the obvious financial deficiencies of the student body. However, upon students' admissions, Wellesley often overlooks the struggles of the students they invest so many resources into. It is necessary to realize that a lack of financial resources plays a part in every aspect of college life, not just the ability to attend.
Oftentimes institutions of power do not realize that certain policies, or lack thereof, cause a disadvantage to one group of individuals over another. In the case of students from lower-income families, the college frequently overlooks the glaring flaws that lead to conflict. A good example lies in the way faculty often treats lower income students. It's not unusual for a class to involve extra meeting times in order to attend a lecture, go on a field-trip or watch a movie. Students who work part-time have less outside time in order to attend out-of-class of special events.
It's not unusual for a professor to assume, whether aloud or privately, that the student is lazy and unwilling to put forth the extra effort to attend. These professors, unfortunately, fail to realize they are adding another layer of stress and judgment to the lives of students who already have more stress than the typical Wendy Wellesley. Imagine how angry you would feel if, after class and coursework, you also worked 10 to 15 hours a week, and then a professor accuses you of not putting enough extra effort into the class. How would that make you feel toward the faculty in general? How does this affect students at a school that prides itself on student-professor relationships?
Another example comes from the dish policy that exists in many of the residence halls. The policy states that if after three days of dishes remaining in common spaces, a 5 a.m. meeting will occur in the hall or floor where the violation occurred. Understandably, the College wants to ensure clean spaces, while also encouraging students to return dishes for use in the dining halls. As a well-known residential hall policy states, missing a meeting results in a $25 fine. However, the use of a financial fee as a final punishment places a greater burden on students with less financial capability. What then prevents the task of removing dishes from common spaces from falling on the shoulders of lower-income students who are more affected by a financial punishment? It is also important to consider what that will mean for these students. For example, how likely will it be that these students will resent their financially well-off peers who can skip the meeting and incur a fine? It is not a suggestion that the administration anticipated these possibilities, but rather that they failed to recognize them.
As identifying with any disadvantaged group, the policies and general ignorance of others can play a vital part in how you feel in your environment. It's not unusual for someone who constantly feels that some aspect of their identity is ignored to become absolutely furious. The anger can be directed toward the administration, faculty and even peers. No matter the direction of the anger, it ends up creating a community in which many members feel under-appreciated and, oftentimes, unwelcome.
Especially with students who are the first in their families to attend college, knowing how to navigate the world of higher education can pose many and diverse problems to students of lower-socioeconomic backgrounds. Having someone to advise, and sometimes just to listen, could create a space for dialogue and support where these students might feel more comfortable speaking out.
That being said, expecting a totally equal playing field for students of every financial background at Wellesley is not realistic. Coming from places where students often don't attend college—or even graduate high school—many students on financial aid must work harder to acquire skills that students from better high schools have already learned. Nonetheless, suggesting that Wellesley does not do an amazing job at providing an equal chance to every woman to attend would be absurd.