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Op Eds

The Price of a $5,000 Housing Stipend

By Jordan R. Robbins
Jordan R. Robbins ’24 is a Crimson Editorial comper.

I am not one to bite the Harvard hand that feeds me, but sometimes I want to eat the sweets that the hand doesn’t offer me.

As an incoming freshman, I was given a “choice”: move on-campus or stay at home. Well, going on campus had its perks, like the possibility of making new friends, the chance of having a (somewhat) normal first-year experience, and the atmosphere of Cambridge. However, staying at home also had its perk: $5,000.

As a low-income student, the question turned into whether I wanted to bring $5,000 back home to support me and my mother or venture on campus, spending money on transportation and food costs.

For reasons not so obvious to other students, I chose to stay home. Thus far, $2,100 has been used to cover the month’s rent, purchase groceries, fix car issues, and swap out a 16-year-old, hand-me-down bedroom suite for a new one that would make learning from my room more bearable. The $5,000 not only made learning from home a possibility; it made home a possibility.

For some low-income students like myself, the choice was never really a choice. It became clear what the moral imperative was — stay home and support your family. I still have a sophomore, junior, and senior year ahead of me. But my mom, a school bus driver, may not always be able to afford a roof over her head.

Yet, as I sit in my newly furnished room with Wi-Fi capabilities and a laptop in front of me, I cannot help but think of what would have been if the option was never given to me. I would be on campus right now, getting regular COVID-19 tests and bonding with other freshmen over the online learning experience. While I am grateful for the generous hand of Harvard, part of me wishes it never would have offered me the too-good-to-turn-down, green money and would have only offered the sweet, nectarine possibility of an on-campus first semester.

Am I selfish for that? Yes.

If I was on campus, I would not have to see my family struggle; to me, their struggles would essentially not exist. But moving to Cambridge would still allow me to separate myself from home. To focus on schoolwork, not on bills. To think about extracurricular activities, not on how I will eat tonight. While I hold guilt for having this feeling, I do not know of many students who want to stay in a broken home rather than experience college life, especially at an institution they had once only dreamed of attending.

The $5,000 from Harvard was definitely a gracious plenty, but it did nothing to help me wedge myself out of that rock and a hard place. Instead, it has me looking forward to what summer school could be like, a consolation offered to students who choose to stay home for the year, which, sadly, has only increased my feelings of guilt as I count down the days until I am able to be on campus.

As my mom and I become dependent on that $5,000, I worry what will happen when it is all used up. Yes, we work. And no, we have no plans on quitting our jobs. But the safety and comfort that the $5,000 has provided is currently a blessing that will, in the long run, seem more like a curse.

Ultimately, I do bite the hand that feeds me. I bite the hand because I am frustrated, but I will also be quick to give it a band aid and a handshake for all that it has done for me. However, the slap of having a starkly different freshman year than my peers due to factors out of my control will leave a lasting mark, as it has for many other low-income students. And the sting will be felt as we continue to watch others have that college experience of which we also only dreamed.

Jordan R. Robbins ’24 is a Crimson Editorial comper.

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