We can change GW’s ‘rich kid’ school stereotype

Students are well aware that most people think of GW as a “rich kid” school. The University has a sticker price of more than $60,000 a year, including room and board. And Foggy Bottom has become a pretty pricey neighborhood to live in – our main grocery store and eatery is Whole Foods, after all.

So perhaps it isn’t a surprise that 14 percent of our student body falls into the top 1 percent of median family incomes, and 70 percent of our student body falls into the top 20 percent of incomes. But this rich kid stereotype and culture is something we, as students, should want and try to change.

Economic diversity at GW is lacking, and although the University has taken steps to increase this diversity, low income students still may not feel welcome here because of our campus culture. As students, we should actively make an effort to make students from all income brackets feel included on campus.

Cartoon by Annan Chen

The economic disparity between students unfairly affects the 30 percent of students that don’t fall in the top 20 percent of incomes. For many students, the ability to go to brunch each weekend or to eat at expensive restaurants on campus for lunch every day is not a reality. Once families or students pay for tuition, they shouldn’t have to worry about paying more just to fit in.

Officials know that GW is pricey and have taken steps to diversify the student body’s economics. The food pantry and the Knowledge in Action Internship Fund are steps that should be applauded. But they only scratch the surface for students who are barely able to afford GW in the first place. When GW went test-optional last year to help lower income students have a fair chance at GW, officials didn’t take into consideration that just because a person can afford to apply to GW doesn’t mean they can afford to attend. Even if students receive generous financial aid packages to help offset the cost of tuition, they may not be able to afford things on a daily basis – like buying three meals a day or their textbooks.

And our economic diversity isn’t likely to change while GW still has a need-aware admissions process – meaning that officials take into consideration if a student will require grants and other forms of financial aid before the student is accepted or rejected. It makes sense that the admissions office functions that way because the University’s operating budget is 60 percent dependent on tuition dollars. Even though this editorial board does not endorse GW’s need-aware status, it’s a financial reality that the University won’t be able to change any time soon. So while the University has increased the amount of financial aid they give out, it falls on students and student organizations to make daily life more affordable.

Student organizations should follow the example of some of the Student Association’s efforts in improving affordability. Former Student Association Executive Vice President Casey Syron led the effort to transition the University into an open dining plan, rather than forcing students to spend a certain amount of money at J Street. Before resigning, Syron also advocated for a Metro card discount program. And the SA has shown a long-standing effort to follow up on affordability concerns. Earlier this month, the SA sent out an affordability survey to determine students’ top financial concerns by asking students about their most burdensome daily expenses. More student-led efforts like this can help reduce the stigma that you have to be wealthy to enjoy the student experience.

These efforts can extend beyond figuring out how expensive daily costs are on campus. There should be more student advocacy to limit how many textbooks a professor can assign for a class. Students shouldn’t have to choose between career experience and passing a class, and professors that assign multiple books should be more understanding that not every student can easily afford books.

GW’s costs don’t end at paying tuition or getting into the school, so it’s not surprising that going test-optional or creating on-campus programs for low-income students hasn’t changed our economic diversity. But that doesn’t mean that GW always has to be a rich kids’ school – it’s a stereotype that students and officials should actively fight against.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Melissa Holzberg and contributing opinions editor Irene Ly, based on discussions with managing director Eva Palmer, homepage editor Tyler Loveless, contributing sports editor Matt Cullen and copy editor Melissa Schapiro.

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