Student Life

Being Poor in Academia

I have always felt my class background amplified in academic spaces. On my first day of school as a Kindergartner, my mom sent me in a Harry Potter t-shirt, nice jeans, and my Velcro sneakers I had just picked out from Payless the day before. My mother couldn’t afford to purchase new uniform clothes for me and so right from the first day, I stuck out as a sore thumb. I got detention right off the bat and kept getting in trouble for almost a month of school because I didn’t wear a uniform. My mother eventually got the money for “appropriate school clothes” but the damage of being reprimanded day after day had been done. I was the kid who couldn’t afford uniforms, and that stuck with me from my time as a four year old to now as an adult.

High school had a similar effect on me. The day before my freshman year, I stayed up until 3am picking out an outfit. None of my clothes were new, nothing was looking good, and I was deathly afraid about being treated differently because of my class background. After going to the same K-8 school for nine years, I was now attending a whole different school full of people who didn’t know me at all. I was excited to reinvent myself, the life I was going to carve out in these “golden years”, but felt reduced to the clothes on my back.

Even as an adult, I’m ashamed of my class background. I don’t like admit that my family is poor, and have instead gone through life faking it. I would assimilate as much as I could, banking on my academic capital to push me through life. I was promised a different life if I studied hard enough, but have failed to see any evidence of it. When I entered college, already 5,000 in debt from loans, I found myself surrounded by others who faced similar struggles because of how academia is set up. Almost everyone I know is in debt, working odd jobs for scraps and barely making rent. Working class students are drowning financially and taking out more than we can afford.

Most of all, I feel completely crippled and locked in. Even if I decided college wasn’t for me halfway through, I couldn’t step back. I don’t have the means to take a semester off, nor could I ever pay off the debt I’ve accumulated. Within my second year soon entering my second semester, I’m almost 20k in debt coming out of a family that only makes 18k a year.

In my case alone, the number don’t make any sense. How could a student coming from an 18k a year family even get to the point where they’re more in debt than their family makes a year? How does someone like myself, with no economic capital, do better when academia itself is going to put me in an even worse situation?

I’m tired of being financially overwhelmed. I’m tired of universities looking more like corporations than places of learning. I’m tired of my university piling more and more fees by the semester and I’m especially angry that they’re now attempting a 5% increase on tuition when the majority of us don’t even know where our next meal is coming from. Education is a human right that is not exclusive to those with economic capital. Education is not optional anymore, but required to survive.

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