This semester, Boston University created a centralized food pantry, run by BU Student Wellbeing. Over 29% of four-year college students have experienced food insecurity, even students at predominantly upper-class schools like BU.
While there were previously smaller, individualized food pantries run by Wheelock College of Education & Human Development and BU’s Medical Campus, this new food pantry represents the University’s drive to create a comprehensive, inclusive space for low-income students to receive the help they need. In light of the stigmas that often surround class and income, the process of getting food from the pantry is completely confidential.
But it is this very stigma that symbolizes the deeper problem.
At first glance, the stereotype of BU students being “spoiled, rich kids” seems troublingly true. The median family income at BU is more than double that of the average American family, sitting well in the six figures at $141,000.
In fact, 10% of students at BU are from families in the top one percent of Americans, meaning they have a net worth of at least $11 million.
This data shouldn’t be too surprising, as it’s rare to walk down Comm Ave without seeing at least a few pairs of Balenciaga high-tops or garishly branded Gucci t-shirts.
But an unintended consequence of these stereotypes — which are, again, largely based in truth — is that BU students who hail from low-income families are essentially erased.
Because BU pledges to meet 100% of demonstrated need, we are not solely home to island-hopping, designer-drenched students.
Instead, there are thousands of BU students who have been working their whole lives, helping to support their families and wearing hand-me-down clothes who are — rightfully — here on scholarship.
These students’ place at BU should be just as well-known and even more celebrated than that of the rich, as it likely was a far more treacherous process for them to arrive here in Boston than it was for those with a financial cushion.
Instead, many low-income BU students feel ostracized and isolated, as there are few, if any, significant community resources for students navigating life without financial support. It might seem trivial, but watching friends go clubbing (and pay cover fees) three nights a week, post blaring stories from countless concerts or lounge in sun-lit luxury on spring break is disheartening and lonely for students without those options.
The academic and social rigors of college are stressful enough, but financially-insecure students also deal with living paycheck to paycheck, scrambling to pay housing deposits and missing meals. Since BU’s cheapest option (dining halls) doesn’t allow students to bring in containers and eat their food at their own convenience, many students have to choose between getting to class on time, hurriedly shuffling through the slow-moving Warren buffet line or buying overpriced, plastic-wrapped lunches at City Convenience stores.
Ignoring the reality of low-income students at prestigious, expensive universities only allows said students to slip through the cracks.
Until BU students actually upend their snobby and out-of-touch characterizations, low-income students will still feel left-out and ostracized — even while they should be even more confident for having gotten into an elite school without an elitist upbringing.
Alas, as we’ve written again and again, a change like this at BU is hard to hope for until a full cultural shift occurs. It is tempting to fall into the common, seemingly obvious complaints — why should such disparities even exist? Why do some Americans worry about where their next meal will come from while others worry only about what time their private jet will land? — but that’s an argument for another editorial.
Instead, we have to focus on what we can actually do: helping our friend pick up their food-pantry groceries without embarrassment, paying for an Uber without an immediate Venmo request, being aware of and refusing to flaunt our privilege and pushing for University policies that rectify the roots of poverty. Essentially, just practicing humility and generosity. This is how we can genuinely support low-income students.
The war against — or sometimes for — poverty will rage on in the gilded halls of D.C. and in state houses across the nation. Here on the bustling, purportedly woke BU campus, let’s fight for low-income students by listening to their stories, acknowledging their struggles and celebrating small victories — especially our brand-new, accessible and necessary food pantry.
This editorial was written by Opinion Editor Caroline McCord.