Staff ed: Small choices can bolster socioeconomic diversity

When it comes to socioeconomic diversity, Washington University has historically struggled. In addition to The New York Times dubbing Wash. U. the least economically diverse college in the country in 2015, the University has faced criticism from students themselves, who say that Wash. U. feels isolating for students from lower socioeconomic statuses.

But now, with Student Union’s new changes to the Bear Bucks program, the Student Life Editorial Board believes the University as a whole is taking another step in the right direction toward creating a more inclusive environment for low-income students.

Whereas the previous minimum to add money to a Bear Bucks account was $25, students can now add as little as $10 at once, making it easier to add just the money needed for laundry or a vending machine run. Students can also head over to Campus Card Services and load their cards with any dollar amount they choose (with no minimum amount), making the Bear Bucks program more flexible.

This change comes at the heels of the implementation of Student Union’s Opportunity Fund, which reduces the costs associated with SU-run activities by providing students with prepaid Bear Bucks cards based on their level of financial need. While this initiative could be improved—funds could be directly deposited into students’ accounts rather than being on a separate card to smoothen the process—we believe this represents a good start.

And the University’s increased consideration of lower income students is also evident through its decision to delay tearing down Lee and Beaumont Halls for another 10-15 years. Rather than destructing Lee-Beau, Wash. U. plans to renovate the interiors of the spaces, making them more environmentally friendly and improving the standard of living for residents.

After the 2014 demolition of Rublemann Hall, Lee and Beau are the only remaining traditional dorms on campus, save for suite-style buildings like Dauten and Hitzeman. Although the amenities offered by modern dorms are inarguably nicer, many students consciously select traditional housing for the financial savings or community experience they offer.

Eliminating all traditional freshman dorms would force students to pay for modern housing for at least their first year (before they can move off campus)—and we applaud the University for delaying demolition for the time being while also upgrading the living standards for Lee-Beau residents.

Although Washington University has been making an active push toward greater socioeconomic diversity among its students, these new measures indicate that the University is taking active measures to ensure that students have a college experience unhindered by financial burden—aside from that already caused by the cost of attendance.

However, while the University is delaying the demolition for now, we hope that they find alternatives to the expensive modern housing options for future students. Once Lee and Beau are eventually taken down, what will the least expensive option be? Maintaining a commitment to lower-cost housing for now is a commendable idea but must be upheld for prospective students for years to come.

While Washington University has improved beyond its reputation as the least economically diverse college in the U.S.—the rate of Pell Grant-eligible students now meets the national average—the University must continue to find ways to recruit lower income students and to ensure that their experiences here are as positive as students from the top one percent.