Remember UI’s financial diversity

We stood shoulder to shoulder, forming the perimeter of a large circle with roughly 30 people in the low-ceilinged conference room Sunday night. We positioned ourselves so we could see everyone else. Some made eye contact with others, and they laughed a little.

We were instructed next to step into the circle if the statement our group leader said applied to us.

“I am a senior,” she said, and people stepped in, looked at everyone who was in the circle and issued a hoot of pride to be in their last year of school. Then the statements changed in their tone.

“I have made jokes with racial slurs.” Eyes darted around the circle quickly, searching for confirmation whether others were going to own up to their errors and step in. These were the questions where the laughter ceased.

Slowly, group members would step into the circle when the statements applied to them, and they had stopped looking around, trying to avoid all eye contact by immediately looking toward the floor.

“I know my parents can give me money if I need it.”

This exercise was designed to show us how sometimes we take our differences for granted. Some of the members assumed that everyone had parents that could give them money if they really needed it. Most did step in, but one or two did not. Those who stepped into the circle didn’t notice those who stood back.

How was it that they were blind to those who remained outside the circle?

Expanding further, how is it that so many students on campus miss those who are similar to those who stood outside the circle?

At this University, there is a large mix of students in terms of racial or ethnic background, but generally, the majority of students here are from middle to upper-middle class white families from the Chicago suburbs who have never seriously thought about money. It’s just something that is there when it’s needed.

It’s easy to forget that not every student on this campus can afford an apartment of $500 to $600 per person per month, or that some people have to buy all their groceries with money they earn at a job on campus. Some buy all of their textbooks out of their pockets without their parents’ help, and they know that they cannot rely on their families to supply them with necessary funds no matter how much they may need it.

Because a good portion of students come from the same affluent towns and the same wealthy Illinois high schools, such as Hinsdale Central High School in Hinsdale or New Trier High School in Winnetka, their presence on this campus does not go unnoticed.

By no means are the majority of students on this campus poor, considering the high price of tuition and the difficulty of ascertaining enough student financial aid to afford it.

Some students tote around The North Face jackets, Ugg boots, multiple colors of TOMS and designer purses. They will easily drop $100 in a single weekend on alcohol, cover for bars and food from multiple restaurants.

It’s irresponsible that those college students don’t understand day-to-day that spending that kind of money can take a student with less favorable assets more than 12 hours of work at a minimum wage job to earn that same $100. There are students who work for everything they own.

It seems that the days of college being the proving grounds for students to learn to live on a tight budget — not on Mom’s or Dad’s — have all but disappeared, at least at this University.

I’ve heard students getting angry at their parents because they won’t pay for their expensive weekend adventures. But I’ve also heard students calling their parents to see if they could send them an extra $20 to cover the water bill because they simply don’t have the money.

As has always been thought, college is a place for diversity, and that doesn’t exclude financial diversity. This is a place where we should learn how to fend for ourselves and not rely on all that financial support from home. Families should help their children to a reasonable extent if they can, but that doesn’t mean providing luxury.

If the inside of the circle is where you step, turn around and see those that didn’t step in — that’s where you can really expose yourself to new kind of diversity.

_Ryan is a sophomore in LAS._