“Invisible” Minority

An interesting article in the Boston Globe caught my eye today: What is is like to be poor at an Ivy league school?  This article notes the effects of familial financial status on a student’s college experience.  It notes that while the Ivy Leagues have adopted a financial aid policy that covers well-qualified low-income students’ tuition, that literally, the buck doesn’t stop there.  While financial aid certainly helps qualified students attend these universities, there are so many aspects of student life that transcend finances.  Though this article focuses on Ivy League schools, it goes without saying that similar trends are likely ubiquitous in higher education.

A couple statements that stood out to me:

…one student mentioned his dad was a lawyer and his mom a doctor, then asked Claudio what his parents did. When he told them his dad was a welder, the conversation ended awkwardly… (referring to how peers may inadvertently ostracize students based on their limited knowledge of what their own life has been)

…some disadvantaged students feel they don’t have a right to complain to peers or administrators; they don’t want to be perceived as ungrateful… (referring to how students who receive additional financial benefits such as free/reduced event tickets can easily be picked out based on where they pick up their tickets)

…students who aren’t familiar with the expectations and norms of elite colleges… (referring to the advantages of having a parent or guardian who has been through or “know” the college system)

This begs the questions: How do we perceive/assume the financial status of ourselves and our peers?  Do we accurately assess this over time?  I attended a conference in Texas within the first few months of coming to Virginia Tech for graduate school.  Having spent the majority of my meager savings on buying a car, relocating to Virginia, and paying deposits for housing, I recall the incredible stress when I was told I would be reimbursed for my travel.  (With what money?!)  Looking back, I imagine the surprise the administrative assistant had when I asked if there was away I could reduce the upfront costs.  Now that I’ve started to establish myself, this isn’t much of an issue for me anymore.  But, I’ve learned to not assume the financial statuses of my peers (especially new graduate students) lest I put them in a similar position I found myself in years ago.

Some campus resources:

Virginia Tech Graduate Student Assembly Travel Fund Program