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A Socioeconomically Equal Experience

By Jacqueline S. Chea
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

The recent nationwide admissions scandal has revealed how students and families of privileged socioeconomic backgrounds are able to leverage their wealth, often in dishonest ways, to gain admission to prestigious universities. But the problem of wealth disparities extends beyond college admissions. Relative to the rest of the population, wealthy students often have unequal access to the resources and institutional knowledge that make for a positive and productive college experience. Certainly no exception, Harvard has significant work to do in making students from all socioeconomic backgrounds — particularly historically marginalized ones — feel included and empowered.

Consider Graduate School of Education professor Anthony A. Jack’s research on the socioeconomic initiatives that elite universities pursue. Jack looks at how low-income students, even those who might be termed “privileged poor” — low-income students that come from affluent private high schools — face a set of common difficulties in college. As part of his research, Jack examines how many socioeconomic initiatives, like those that allow low-income students to attend events they might not be able to afford on their own, are well-intended and largely beneficial, but make low-income students feel that they are different from and treated as less than their wealthier peers.

As we have opined in past, low-income students at Harvard are certainly no exception, and Harvard should take a hard look at how its institutions contribute to this sense of difference. While the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative has been incredibly beneficial for countless students and families, it is important to acknowledge that the problem of socioeconomic inequity runs deeper than admission and requires more comprehensive solutions than currently available.

The University, we acknowledge, will not be able to fix this societal problem on its own. Nevertheless, there are some measures that Harvard might consider on its journey toward providing the best experience possible for its low-income students.

Jack discusses how low-income students in elite colleges can feel out of place when they participate, often by necessity, in paid janitorial programs — which at Harvard translates to Dorm Crew. Rethinking work contributions like Dorm Crew and similar requirements for financial aid and the ways these interact with power dynamics could be a positive step towards addressing these issues. Many other tangible measures may include: compensating students for labor they contribute in unpaid student organizations, providing more accessible funding for food and housing on breaks, and expanding its online resources for first-generation, low-income students. Finally, Harvard should continue to pursue and prioritize student research that tries to better define the scope of this problem and enable students to tackle the issue drawing from their extensive knowledge of student life at Harvard.

Yet, students must also consider their own responsibilities in helping make Harvard a welcoming and inclusive environment. It falls upon students to be more vigilant and considerate about the way in which we recognize our privilege and interact with our peers. Universities will always be encumbered by bureaucracy, but that need not be the case for students. Change starts with us — in our classes and dining halls, pre-orientation programs and extracurricular activities.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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