CAMBRIDGE, U.K. — Last Thursday, a Pembroke College student burned a £20 note in front of a homeless man on Bridge Street. I’m not certain how many people in the United States, let alone Penn’s campus, heard of it, but it was a huge deal over here in Cambridge. The negative social media reaction was so overwhelming that the Pembroke Facebook page had to disable its comments for a while.
Besides being an absolutely ludicrous story to pass around the dining hall table, the event served a more important purpose by betraying something deeper about Cambridge’s socioeconomic difference: that there is little to none.
While this student’s actions were an anomaly, and while almost all of his peers outwardly condemned them, it is difficult to deny the lack of economic diversity at Cambridge. Most of the students here have lived around the same upper-class areas, gone to the same or similar feeder schools and can afford the same type of comfortable lifestyles where they pay upward of £100 for club memberships.
If all this sounds familiar, then it should. Because the first thing I thought of when reflecting on Cambridge’s economically homogeneous environment was my home campus, Penn.
Last week, two posts in The Daily Pennsylvanian’s opinion section coincided with the note-burning incident to impress upon me the importance of addressing problems of economic diversity.
The first was the Group Think discussion on whether Penn has a lack of economic diversity and what the administration should do about it. The answer to the first part of the question seemed evident to me; of course Penn lacks economic diversity. The second part had me stumped.
At the time, I had proposed that Penn should go out and actively search for people of different economic backgrounds, that it should be more direct and recruit them. The answer appeared incredibly wanting, mainly because it was so vague.
How would the logistics work out? Would Penn representatives actually go to these schools and hand them applications? Would they look at these students’ FAFSA and SAT scores and choose the best combination? It was an almost childish solution.
And to tell the truth, I still don’t know how to answer the original question. But then, in considering further what I had in my power to do, I realized that I had the ability to raise the issue so that people more educated in this matter would find the solution to it. They would understand that this is an important problem on campus, that it is not going away and that it must be solved.
Moreover, I realized that while I might not be able to resolve the issue itself, I can change the culture and mentality surrounding Penn’s economic homogeneity. This leads to the second thing I read last week, James Fisher’s article about being at an economic disadvantage.
While at first I found the main takeaway — that Penn students should be more sensitive to economic disparity — insufficient, the more I thought about it, the more crucial I found it to be. One of the largest problems on Penn’s campus is not merely the lack of economic diversity, but the complacent, almost satisfied attitude towards it.
We walk proudly in our Canada Goose jackets and we chatter loudly about our weekend trips to Cabo. As James rightly points out, much of Penn’s social scene, including both individual events like dinners and formal groups like fraternities and sororities, revolves around money.
I know that it is nearly impossible to ask that we change the way we enjoy ourselves so as not to center on money. But at the very least, I think it’s important that we are sensitive about the way we deal with those who have less money.
We shouldn’t disdain those who ask us for money by looking at them with disgust and mocking them. If we have a friend who can’t afford to go on that Center City trip, we should plan something a little closer to home. For some of us, we should actually make friends with people outside of our socioeconomic status. We should promote an environment that is hospitable to economic diversity so that, when we do finally achieve it, we won’t regret having it.
AMY CHAN is a College junior from Augusta, Ga., studying Classics and English. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Chances Are” usually appears every other Thursday.
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