April 30, 2013

GUEST ROOM: What About the Working Class, Cornell?

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A couple weeks after receiving a personal email from President David Skorton, and the alluring promise of winning $10, I completed the PULSE survey. After clicking through seven pages of multiple choice “How much do you agree?” and “How would you rate Cornell’s ability?”  and “What’s your overall feel?” kinds of questions, I got to the generic short answer: “Any other comments?” Normally, I just stare at that question and breeze on past (I’ve already answered about 50 questions, what more do you want?), but for some reason I stopped and actually put some thought into what more Cornell could do for diversity. I went back to the page where I was asked to answer how respectful I thought Cornell and the student body is toward various groups: International students, LGBT students, transfer students, female students, minority students, and discovered that one type of student was not on that list: The working class. The University cares about what gender you are, where you’re from, your race and your sexual orientation, but not your socioeconomic status. future.

Don’t get me wrong, Cornell is incredibly generous with financial aid and, because of that students like me can afford to come here. However, there is a weird gap between people who get a full-ride and those whose family can afford tuition: Cornell’s working class. Let me clarify, when I say Cornell’s “working class,” I am referring to the population of students who work for money to pay for tuition, living expenses or to support their family back home, not just students who pick up a job to earn a little extra spending money. For this subset of people, Cornell makes it extremely difficult to make ends meet.  I work about 10 hours a week here, and I enjoy my job. However, despite working nearly 150 hours last semester, I was still under my work study quota. I am not the only person in this boat. I have heard stories from people who work 20+ hours a week and still can’t pay their bills; I know people who work three jobs, and people who work to send money back home to their families.

There is a lack of understanding toward working Cornell students outside of the dining halls, gyms and libraries where they spend their time. One only has to overhear conversations or scroll through Cornell Confessions to find stories about people who cannot afford a smartphone or data plan, people who cannot join a sport or club because of the fees or people who feel excluded because they cannot buy their fraternity or sorority’s gear. Portions of the Cornell population have no understanding of the challenges working students face, just as portions of the population do not understand what it means to be gay, international, female, transgender, Black or Hispanic. Structurally, there is little in place to support and represent these students. Take the Student Assembly, for example. The  Student Assembly has positions specifically set aside to deal with concerns relating to women, transfer students, LGBTQ students, international students and minorities. But where’s the working class representation? Oh wait, they’re probably busy balancing 20 hours of work plus 20 credits.

Some of you might be wondering whether the University really should treat low socioeconomic status as a minority classification and thus provide structural support for working students. After all, this is America. You can change your socioeconomic status, right? Well, we are trying — why do you think we are here in the first place?

For a University that claims to welcome all sorts of diversity and tries extremely hard to be inclusive, it is unnerving that the administration mostly ignores the working class demographic. Furthermore, if the University wants to improve diversity and support all students, socioeconomic status needs to be taken into consideration.

Now, I’m not asking for much. On a University level, a raise in student wages would be nice, but let’s be realistic. My working peers and I don’t want pity, or not having to work or hiking up everyone else’s tuition. All we want is some recognition and appreciation that working students are a minority and have their own struggles. For starters, a question on the PULSE survey, an SA position, even a skit during Tapestry, would be small ways the University could recognize this group. To my peers: I am happy for you if you don’t have to worry about tuition. But next time you make a mess on Friday night at RPCC, recognize that someone has to clean that up, and he or she may have Friday night plans, too. If you shop in class, appreciate that that formal dress you just bought costs more than some of your peers will make in semester. Don’t give your friends a hard time for not buying new clothes, not having a smartphone or being reluctant for going out to eat. And next time I take a survey with a chance of being paid, I would love to get that 10 bucks. Because hey, $10 for half an hour? That’s the best offer Cornell’s going to give me.

Emily Miller is a freshman in the College of Human Ecology. Feedback may be sent to opinio[email protected]. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.

Original Author: Emily Miller.