I ’ve b een told by too many people to remember that it must have been easy for me to get into Penn. That I have it so easy because I am on full financial aid and don’t have to take out loans. That I was the perfect diversity candidate. And I am sick of it.
There is nothing easy about growing up with parents supporting not only themselves and six kids, but also providing for family members in Central America. Or worrying that your parents or siblings might get deported before you even finish high school. Or your family not being able to finance your education. Or knowing that you have little to no safety net to fall back on if you don’t find an internship for the summer, or a job after graduation.
So yes, while students on full financial aid don’t necessarily have to worry about taking out a loan to survive as a Penn student, some of us have to worry about a lot of other financial concerns the average Penn student does not have to.
Some of us have to worry about pitching in to help pay for medical bills for a family member without health care. Some of us have to worry about whether our family will be able to pay their mortgage, and whether we’ll have a “home” to return to during breaks. Some of us can’t afford to go home during breaks at all, for financial or emotional reasons.
Some of us have to spend a significant portion of our work-study funds to finance things that we never had access to before arriving at Penn, things like business casual and formal clothes, dental care or even medical exams. Some of us use this “extra” money — money that our peers might use for BYOs or spring break trips — to help our families, pay for MCAT or LSAT prep courses and, yes, even go to a BYO once in a while.
Telling a low-income student that they are “lucky” for being from a lower-income family is incredibly ignorant, not to mention disrespectful.
It is ignoring the lived experiences, daily challenges and unequal footing on which we all stand. It implies that low-income students are “lucky” to be here, when really, it is Penn who is lucky for having attracted such a driven student, who is able to balance all their familial and financial stressors on top of the academic and professional pressures that Penn necessitates.
These students aren’t “lucky” to be low-income. If anything, students from low-income and first generation backgrounds had to fight harder to reach schools like Penn. Some of these students had to navigate through college application and SAT fee waivers, defy guidance counselors who discouraged them from aiming so high (if they had guidance counselors at all) and research colleges in a language other than their own first language, with minimal help from parents because they themselves didn’t go to college.
These are not easy things to do. And they are realities that don’t go away once we’ve stepped onto Penn’s campus. Low-income and first generation students carry with them the weight of their upbringing, their familial responsibilities and post-graduation obligations into every class, every student group meeting and every work-study interview they go to.
Perhaps we should acknowledge that a student who goes back home during winter break and does housekeeping with their mother or landscaping with their father doesn’t face the same challenges as someone who goes back home and works the front desk or as an assistant accountant at their parent’s or family friend’s business.
As long as comments like “You’re Latina, low-income and first-generation? It must have been so easy for you to get into Penn!” and “You have it so good, you don’t have to take out any loans!” are still thrown at low-income and first-generation students on campus, the already toxic environment at Penn remains even more so for some of its most marginalized stud ents.
Yessenia Gutierrez is a College fifth-year senior from Hollywood, Fla. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Yessi Can” appears every other Monday.Comments powered by Disqus
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