Class Differences Persist Within Student Body

Class At Harvard First in a two-part series

Joshua D. Powe '98 describes the families of the students from his high school as "very influential." Graduates of the Dalton School, located on Manhattan's posh Upper East Side, include the children of Diana Ross, John Lennon and Robert Redford. About 10 percent of each graduating class goes on to Harvard.

Powe's parents own a company that produces educational textbooks and sells Afrocentric greeting cards, mugs and imported jewelry.

"I don't think your socioeconomic background makes much of a difference, except maybe people of lesser means may not be able to go out to Boston or go to more expensive Eurotype clubs," Powe says.

He is not on financial aid.

Ourania N. Tserotas '98 attended a high school in inner-city Chicago where the dropout rate pushes 50 percent. Its students live mostly in public-housing projects; many had babies as sophomores or juniors in high school. Of the 10 percent who attend college, most go on to community colleges. Tserotas is the only graduate ever to matriculate at an Ivy League school.


Tserotas' father, an immigrant, did not finish high school and works more than 60 hours per week as a cook in a Greek restaurant.

"It's a nice assumption people make, that I'm in the same boat with them, in that people aren't overtly conscious when they talk to me," Tserotas says. "But very few people realize how much money my parents make, and those who do can't grasp it."

She attends Harvard on a full scholarship.

A hundred years ago, Harvard's wealthiest students bid for spacious rooms in Harvard Yard. Poorer students scrounged for rooms off campus. Today, more than 95 percent of students live in on-campus housing, with housing assignments made at random. Room and board fees are uniform.

While Harvard's ivy-covered walls still symbolize social prestige and economic elitism to the American public, the last 70 years have changed the University. The school that once featured catered food service in students' dorm rooms has been replaced by one where 67 percent of each class is on financial aid and 45 percent receives a direct grant or scholarship from the University.

Yet socioeconomic issues quietly haunt Harvard, and remain a volatile enough issue that many refuse to discuss them.

Several students declined to be interviewed for this series, including the daughter of corporate-takeover magnate Henry R. Kravis; the daughter of performer and Academy Awards producer Quincy Jones; and the son of Harvard Overseer and Illinois Tool Works CEO John D. Nichols Jr. '53.

Two months of research showed that middle- and working-class students were more willing than wealthier students to discuss their personal backgrounds. Still, the responses of the more than 20 students inter viewed indicate no direct relationship between class backgrounds and views on the importance of class at Harvard.

What is clear, however, is that wealth, or lack of it, shapes students' experiences prior to college, the quality of undergraduate life at Harvard, and their expectations after graduation.

Same Support, Different Experience

To Jeremy W. Linzee '97, growing up poor or rich simply connotes different life experiences.

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