Essay: Attending an expensive school with well-off peers is isolating

When I was deciding where to attend college, I had to make a difficult financial choice. I could attend a cheaper school that was closer to home but didn’t have the exact political communication program I wanted. Or, I could go to my dream school, take out loans and work hard to pay them off. I chose the latter.

Starting school, I thought the majority of students would be like me: People whose middle-class family did not have $70,000 per year to pay for GW but would take out loans, find a job and make it work. But I was met with a rude awakening when I got to campus.

I am constantly asked by friends and classmates why I am working so much, why I am taking so many credits, why food insecurity is an issue for me and why I stress out about the cost of attending GW. These conversations are rooted in a fundamental lack of understanding about students who struggle financially or need to pay for things of their own. There is a disconnect between students who can lean on their families to pay an expensive university price tag and students who cannot.

I was recently asked why food insecurity was an issue on campus and why students could not ask their parents for more dining dollars. Food insecurity is a problem affecting hundreds of students, and I suspect those people know they do not have a family member back home who can reload cash onto their GWorlds. They can go to The Store – GW’s food pantry – or save some money using meal deals, but when that money runs out, that is it. Many students I have spoken to cannot wrap their heads around the issue, and it contributes to a lack of understanding of those with financial struggles.

When I turn down opportunities to socialize or attend campus events because I am busy working, my peers tell me I am doing too much and need to drop something off my schedule. But many students like me do not have the choice to cut out a job opportunity or extracurricular. I must work to continue being a student while simultaneously trying to further my career. My personal goal is to graduate as quickly as possible, make the most of my education while I am here, take out as few loans as possible and work as much as I can while I am here to save and pay off those loans. Most of my time is spent furthering that goal while trying to maintain a social and professional life. When people tell me I need to take a break, all I can say is that I wish I could and that some of us do not have the luxury to do so.

Students without ample financial support from parents or family are left in an expensive city, on an expensive campus and feeling isolated around peers who do not understand their situation. GW is more expensive than its peer schools, is located in one of the priciest cities in the United States and is ranked below its peer schools for social mobility. Ignorance of students’ financial situations creates division among those of different economic backgrounds, leading students like me to be looked down upon.

I have found myself in countless situations around students with more funds than I have who assume that everyone around them has the money to travel home on short breaks, shop and see movies. In those situations, I stay silent and grow embarrassed of my status instead of calling out their ignorance.

Those who are well off need to stop assuming that everyone around them is in a similar financial situation to them. Everyone on this campus has their own lives, stories and struggles. Beginning a conversation between students based on understanding each others’ situations without shame or judgement is important to make students who are just getting by feel more welcome on campus.

On the flip side, those with fewer funds or those who are struggling like myself, need to speak up and share their stories and struggles on campus. It is only once students speak to each other and try to understand each others’ situations that they can feel more comfortable and accepted on campus.

Hannah Thacker, a sophomore majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

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