Op-Ed: Spare some change, Wash. U.?

WU/FUSED

As the school year comes to a close, I reflect on the changes at grand ole Washington University in St. Louis. I rediscovered how terrible I am at math after taking my first Natural Sciences and Mathematics course, so I changed from credit to pass/fail. (Yes, I did pass, thank you very much.) I also noticed a change in the East End construction as the site went from not-even-close-to-finished to eh-kinda-close-to-finished.

However, the most evident change is the retirement of Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton. Over the past few-ish decades, Chancellor Wrighton has opened doors of opportunity and development. His achievements include increasing applications to and interest in Wash. U., bridging local, national and global relations and raising over $3.3 billion in campaign contributions. (That’s a lot of change.) There is no doubt that Chancellor Wrighton cares for Wash. U. and strives to improve the campus, but sometimes, change comes at a price.

Despite change, Wash. U. lacks socioeconomic diversity. The latest article from the New York Times regarding the socioeconomic diversity at Wash. U. claims, “84% [of students] come from the top 20 percent.” Additionally, income mobility ranks at 51 out of 64 elite colleges. While this may be old news, the ramifications persist. As a low-income student, I know first-hand what it is like to attend Wash. U. with financial hardship. During my first year, I realized the shocking socioeconomic stratification. Whereas some students were sharing about their vacation homes and high-end clothes, I had difficulty paying living expenses. Once, I attended a social to join a fraternity, and prospective members were asked about the best place they have travelled. In my small group, attendees talked about their foreign adventures. Having never gone abroad, I felt inadequate as I shared an embellished story about the time I visited my family in Minnesota. The weight of financial insufficiency bled into my academic and social performance, and it is still an obstacle I am learning to overcome. For students carrying socioeconomic burdens, this too is the legacy of Chancellor Wrighton.

But even legacies can be changed. Thus, students, administrators and faculty alike must strive to create an equitable and prosperous community for all students, regardless of socioeconomic background. This means admitting more low-income and moderate-income students, providing them with sufficient financial aid packages and offering them resources to alleviate the jarring transition into an affluent university environment and increase awareness of the socioeconomic differences within the student population. By doing so, we can work towards a need-blind, more socioeconomically aware university.

My mother once asked me why I spend my college experience advocating for socioeconomic diversity when Wash. U. has generously granted me abundant financial aid. “What if they take it all away,” she stressed, “then you’ll have nothing.” Surely, the concern seems unlikely, but justifiable. If I did not receive financial aid, it would be nearly impossible to attend Wash. U., as is the case for many low-income and moderate-income students. But even if I was somehow stripped of financial support, I would find gain in my sacrifices. I would rather dedicate my time making Wash. U. a better place for others than reap rewards for my own profit, a philosophy our administrators should adopt.

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