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Gingersnap
05-12-2009, 10:43 AM
The Harvard disadvantage

Despite outreach, the needy face socioeconomic gulf

By Tracy Jan
Globe Staff / May 12, 2009

He was valedictorian of his senior class, and had been accepted at all 13 colleges to which he applied. But when Miguel Garcia entered Harvard University last fall, he felt he didn't belong.

As classmates moved into Harvard Yard that first day with parents - and in some cases, chauffeurs - driving fancy vehicles packed with boxes, Garcia arrived alone. His belongings fit into two suitcases and a backpack. His mother, a worker at an industrial laundry, and father, a janitor at a Detroit casino, could not afford the trip.

"Everyone else seemed so polished and entitled and seamlessly adapting," Garcia recalled. "It just felt like they'd been here their whole lives. I was really intimidated. I didn't feel like I had anything in common."

Students of modest means have attended Harvard on scholarship for decades. But with the school making an unprecedented push to recruit more of them by offering virtually free rides, the number of students from families making less than $60,000 a year has surged 30 percent over the last five years - to about one-fifth of all Harvard students.

As it increases its outreach to such students, Harvard is doing more to help them adjust to campus life and address the disconnect that many experience on arrival, said William Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid, who himself was a scholarship student at Harvard.

To make the transition easier, Harvard has quietly expanded a fund that students can tap to pay for such things as admission to dorm dances, tutoring, winter coats, even plane tickets home. Financially, at least, their four years at Harvard would appear to be worry-free, as the school covers tuition, room, and board - close to $50,000 a year. The university has nearly doubled its investment in financial aid since 2004.

Socially, though, less-fortunate students must gingerly navigate a minefield of class chasms on a campus still brimming with legacies and wealth.

Jim Crossen, a Harvard senior from Davenport, Iowa, recalls that he balked during freshman year when his choir required students to don tuxedos for concerts.

"No one ever told me I was poor until I got to Harvard," Crossen said. "It was that culture of saying, 'Just wear your tux.' I don't even own a suit - still."

Even when he discovered that the choir has money to help members in a pinch, Crossen was too embarrassed to ask. He bought a tuxedo for $80 at a bargain basement - it smelled like a basement, too - spending wages from his part-time job at the law school library.

And while many of his classmates went hiking on Harvard-organized trips just before the start of freshman year, Crossen chose to spend the week earning $11 an hour scrubbing toilets in Harvard dorms. He later stopped buying textbooks, using the library instead to save $400 a semester.

It can be difficult to discern the neediest students. There's no support group or club for them - many students prefer not to reveal their socioeconomic standing. The university keeps a list of them, available only to Harvard financial aid officials, to try to meet their needs throughout their undergraduate years, be it emergency money for a root canal or a loan for test-prep courses, an interview suit, or travel while studying abroad.

(snip)

"You can't take a kid who's lived in the ghetto for 18 years and just make them feel OK now," Garcia said. "But other people say, 'Why are you complaining? You're at Harvard. You have a full ride. And when you graduate, you'll be just like us.' "

Instead of pretending everyone is equal, he said, the university should encourage more candid conversations about the sensitive topic of wealth and poverty. Garcia would like to see Harvard form a support network for students like himself who want the camaraderie, and establish an office to help them adjust.

Harvard officials acknowledge there is more to be done. During orientation next fall, new students will be asked to discuss readings about class differences and privilege, said Thomas Dingman, dean of freshmen.

"The makeup of Harvard has changed a lot, and this is something we can do to address some of the issues of socioeconomic diversity," Dingman said.

Two weekends ago, recently admitted low- and moderate-income students gathered at the campus pub for a special reception. They drank Shirley Temples, picked up free pocket guides on how to survive Harvard on a shoestring budget, and grilled current scholarship students about their experiences.

Rosario Santillana, a Los Angeles student, said she would not have visited Harvard if the university had not paid for her flight. "As far as money goes, Harvard spoils you," Santillana concluded.

What is wrong with these people? You get a free ride to school plus a boatload of bennies that cover your recreational costs and it still isn't enough? Now you also want people from different backgrounds to feel bad about their own circumstances so you can feel more at home? :rolleyes:

Boston com (http://www.boston.com/news/education/higher/articles/2009/05/12/the_harvard_disadvantage/?page=full)

patriot45
05-12-2009, 11:22 AM
After reading that sob story, I don't know how I'll get thru my day. :rolleyes:

I love this phrase - socioeconomic diversity. Makes me throw up a little. Every one is a sissy nowadays.

samurai
05-12-2009, 01:27 PM
Many years ago, I was accepted to Harvard and I'm from a poor family. But at the time, the only benefit the school itself would offer me was to reduce the annual tuition by 20%, which meant I'd still have to come up with $20,000 per year + living expenses. I didn't want to become that deep in debt, so I attended the local California State University instead, and graduated with double honors and no debt at all. I know a CSU degree isn't worth as much as a Harvard one, but I still think I made the right choice.

hazlnut
05-12-2009, 03:06 PM
Many years ago, I was accepted to Harvard and I'm from a poor family. But at the time, the only benefit the school itself would offer me was to reduce the annual tuition by 20%, which meant I'd still have to come up with $20,000 per year + living expenses. I didn't want to become that deep in debt, so I attended the local California State University instead, and graduated with double honors and no debt at all. I know a CSU degree isn't worth as much as a Harvard one, but I still think I made the right choice.

Which one?--I went to Dominguez Hills.

samurai
05-12-2009, 03:41 PM
I went to CSU Chico. I grew up in Chico, very nice town.

hazlnut
05-12-2009, 05:15 PM
I went to CSU Chico. I grew up in Chico, very nice town.

I had two buddies from P.V. who went there. Way back when, it was ranked #1 party school in the nation by playboy or some magazine. Is that true?

DH was a mini-version of the giant CSU Long Beach. A commuter school with a decent baseball team.

megimoo
05-12-2009, 07:14 PM
What is wrong with these people? You get a free ride to school plus a boatload of bennies that cover your recreational costs and it still isn't enough? Now you also want people from different backgrounds to feel bad about their own circumstances so you can feel more at home? :rolleyes:

Boston com (http://www.boston.com/news/education/higher/articles/2009/05/12/the_harvard_disadvantage/?page=full)Liberal guilt is an amazing thing ! Maybe they should open up a getto Harvard in Detroit or Harlem NY and make some feel right at home.

samurai
05-12-2009, 08:21 PM
I had two buddies from P.V. who went there. Way back when, it was ranked #1 party school in the nation by playboy or some magazine. Is that true?

DH was a mini-version of the giant CSU Long Beach. A commuter school with a decent baseball team.

Yeah, it was, but only because of a drunken riot during Pioneer Days that year. In response, CSU Chico (and the city) made big changes, including permanently canceling the Pioneer days celebration, prohibiting any alcohol on campus at any time, new rules and restrictions for frats and sororities, etc. By the time I enrolled a few years later, partying was vastly toned down.

I didn't have time for parties anyway, as I completed a double major (History and Social Science) with double honors (in both GE and my History major) in just 4 years (that when my grants ran out, so I had to finish by then). I was taking 15-18 units or more per semester, many of them honors courses. My all-nighters were writing papers, not partying, LOL!

Bubba Dawg
05-12-2009, 08:28 PM
It took four schools and seven years but I got my BA. :D

I went part-time to night school for a long time before I was able to attend the University of North Florida and finish. I really appreciated the opportunity to go to school anywhere. I didn't feel at all deprived for not going to some ritzy private school and what small school debt I had was paid off within a year of graduation.

hazlnut
05-12-2009, 08:30 PM
Yeah, it was, but only because of a drunken riot during Pioneer Days that year. In response, CSU Chico (and the city) made big changes, including permanently canceling the Pioneer days celebration, prohibiting any alcohol on campus at any time, new rules and restrictions for frats and sororities, etc. By the time I enrolled a few years later, partying was vastly toned down.

I didn't have time for parties anyway, as I completed a double major (History and Social Science) with double honors (in both GE and my History major) in just 4 years (that when my grants ran out, so I had to finish by then). I was taking 15-18 units or more per semester, many of them honors courses. My all-nighters were writing papers, not partying, LOL!

That's right, Pioneer days! So, it's safe to send my son their now? (his chances at a UC get slimmer with every semester.)

samurai
05-12-2009, 08:49 PM
That's right, Pioneer days! So, it's safe to send my son their now? (his chances at a UC get slimmer with every semester.)

Yes, and Chico is a great place to live. I'd still try and stay away from the frats though, they are not all that different from frats at most schools, and drinking still goes on off campus. But it's nothing like it used to be.

cat714
05-13-2009, 12:29 AM
What is wrong with these people? You get a free ride to school plus a boatload of bennies that cover your recreational costs and it still isn't enough? Now you also want people from different backgrounds to feel bad about their own circumstances so you can feel more at home? :rolleyes:

Boston com (http://www.boston.com/news/education/higher/articles/2009/05/12/the_harvard_disadvantage/?page=full)

Unbelievable. He should be grateful that he is able to attend an ivy league school for free. If I had that opportunity, I would be all over it and would not worry about those who had more than me. Perhaps Garcia should just leave Harvard and go to the local community college in his neighborhood with the rest of the ghetto students.

Phillygirl
05-13-2009, 10:57 AM
I wasn't ghetto poor, but I was poor when I went to law school. I drove my 1979 AMC spirit and parked it next to the mercedes and porsches, etc. I remember feeling out of place when some of the other students wanted to drown their first year grade announcements with a line of coke; or went shopping on the Main Line with Daddy's credit card to feel better. I got through it. They will too. If anything, it still gives me a sense of smug satisfaction when driving my own porsche now, that wasn't paid for with trust fund money.

Water Closet
05-13-2009, 11:05 AM
Liberal guilt is an amazing thing ! Maybe they should open up a getto Harvard in Detroit or Harlem NY and make some feel right at home.

Columbia already beat them to Harlem.

Gingersnap
05-13-2009, 11:09 AM
Columbia already beat them to Harlem.

LOL! So true.

miguel0445
06-06-2009, 04:36 AM
To Whom It May Concern,

I am writing to address comments and express my concerns regarding a recent article published by the Boston Globe in which I was featured titled “The Harvard Disadvantage”. First of all, allow me to admit that although I believe the article to be rooted in legitimate arguments, I found it to be one-sided, misrepresentative, and ultimately counterproductive. I was asked to share my opinion regarding the issue because of my involvement with the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, particularly my involvement with issues concerning income and social class on campus.

Personally, I was disgruntled with the author’s self-constructed image of me. The author’s decision, for example, to use my expressed interest in writing for the Harvard Crimson and translate it into an image of me writing “in my journal to sort out my feelings”, or to claim that I was relocated due to class-tension issues (which is completely false) reveals the deliberate choice to portray the interviewed students as ghetto, troubled, self-absorbed, and socially misfit. The article disregarded my involvement with campus organizations, my immeasurable happiness with Harvard faculty and students, and my positive attempts to address these issues. It is obvious that the writer intended to portray the subjects, not as multifaceted individuals, but as low-income, “needy” students. These fabrications have the potential to cause dismissal more than they do to evoke productive dialogue.

But this skewed and stereotypical depiction is more problematic than it appears. The author applies the forced images of the interviewed students on all low-income students. This distortion of truth can be used to support the argument that low-income students are commonly unqualified, ill-equipped, and unfit for a place like Harvard. It can lead some to believe that Harvard’s Financial Aid Initiatives are unsuccessful and that minority recruitment efforts are futile. Quite the contrary, however, Dean Fitzsimons and Senior Admissions Officer David Evans, have frequently stated that the recent minority recruitment efforts, and new financial aid initiatives have led to the formation of the “most academically gifted classes in the history of Harvard College”.

Needless to say, the article’s focus on laundry and tuxedos is trivial and silly (aside: I actually enjoy doing laundry and most of us rent tuxedos, if needed), but let's not ignore the issue at hand—the fact is that socioeconomic, immigrant, and transitional issues have been historically overlooked at Harvard. These unaddressed issues have led students, due to misunderstandings and feelings of isolation, to categorize based on class and race. In addition, Harvard has had, until very recently, one of the lowest low-income student enrollment rates among the Ivies. However, this enrollment issue is NOT exclusive to Harvard.

Largely overlooked is the fact that American universities with the largest endowments continue to do a poor job in enrolling low-income students. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education’s data shows that, as of 2008, over the past 23 years, eight of the 10 universities with the largest endowments have shown a decline in the percentage of low-income students in their student bodies. Over the past five years, many of these universities have virtually eliminated the cost of attending these institutions for students from families earning under $60,000. Yet, over the most recent two-year period, the percentage of low-income students has declined at eight of the 10 universities with the largest endowments. Clearly, there is more work to be done.

But Harvard's pioneering financial aid initiatives—which provide money for tuition, books, housing, etc—have caused a dramatic increase in low-income applicants and students. In the past ten years, the percentage of federal Pell-Grant qualifying students (of family incomes typically below $40,000) at Harvard has increased almost ten percent. But diversity is more than putting everyone in the same room.

Very little has been done to address the different needs that these students bring with them to campus. Financial aid policies are not enough to ensure success and should be complemented with a range of support systems. Multicultural centers, Women’s studies centers, and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender organizations are commonplace on college campuses. Why is it so hard to acknowledge that, similar to other minorities, students from different socioeconomic backgrounds arrive to campus with different needs? It’s time to acknowledge, support, and celebrate one more form of diversity that is too often ignored: socioeconomic diversity.

The successful “I am Harvard” campaign spearheaded by the Association of Black Harvard Women and the Black Men's Forum in 2007 intended to bring the campus together through a series of events to question the conception of what a Harvard student should look and act like. The “campaign served as an affirmation of minorities” rightful presence at the University. But the issues of class and race are not mutually exclusive and often intersect. Shouldn’t all minority groups, including underrepresented socioeconomic groups, have the right to assert their presence and identity at Harvard? Is it not possible to be grateful towards Harvard's unmatched generosity while still fearlessly expressive of constructive criticism?

Misunderstandings, lack of information, inflammatory articles, and avoidance of sensitive issues create fruitless tensions. The mistake of the Globe article is not that it spoke of socioeconomic issues on campus but that it made it seem as if Harvard was making no efforts to address the issues. The article intended to perpetuate old images of the place that everyone loves to criticize. But I do think that we should acknowledge the distinct and uncomfortable challenges that low-income students face on campus. We should acknowledge that the issues of classism, while less overt than depicted in the story, are real. Most importantly, we should work towards addressing these issues and finding solutions.

Investing in the welfare, comfort, and education of all Harvard students will make the campus a more enriching place for students of all socioeconomic statuses, races, countries of origin, sexual orientations, and religious beliefs. We can choose to dismiss the article as sensationalist, unfounded, and inflammatory and pretend that the issue of class does not exist, or we can open up to engaging in productive dialogue and by doing so, make the first steps towards narrowing the silent yet present class divisions on campus. We must work together to build a community in which everyone "is Harvard”.

In many ways, Harvard is a microcosm that contains and reflects all the problems and divisions of the larger society. But Harvard is more than that, because we not only mirror the present, we have a hand in shaping the future. I believe we each have an obligation to help make Harvard a living and learning community marked by pluralism and mutual respect.


Miguel Garcia

samurai
06-06-2009, 05:00 AM
Thanks for posting here and presenting your side of the story.

However, I'd argue for the exact opposite solution... getting rid of the various "minority clubs and commiseration groups" instead of adding yet another one for low-income students. For one thing, in general, graduating from Harvard gives you a pretty darn good chance at a good job and wealth. Why would you join a group to support poor kids when the whole point of being there is to improve your future?

Besides, people place different values on different things in life. To some, wealth may be very important. To others, spending time with friends and family is more important, or a desire to travel, or a hobby/interest/talent such as art, music, or writing. I have never valued money or possessions very highly. I wanted to travel and live in another country, so I taught English in Japan. I value time with my family, especially after my mother passed away (that was a real wake-up call about priorities in life), so I work part time, enough to pay the bills, and spend a lot more time with my dad. Yes, I come from a poor background, and I generally find the less-than-wealthy folks have more common sense, less ego, and a better set of priorities, but I'd never join a "poor students club" at a university... For one thing, it smacks of class separation and warfare, and promotes socialistic ideas of a stratified class structure in which social mobility is next to impossible.

Gingersnap
06-06-2009, 11:07 AM
I was with you right up until this:


Very little has been done to address the different needs that these students bring with them to campus. Financial aid policies are not enough to ensure success and should be complemented with a range of support systems. Multicultural centers, Women’s studies centers, and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender organizations are commonplace on college campuses. Why is it so hard to acknowledge that, similar to other minorities, students from different socioeconomic backgrounds arrive to campus with different needs? It’s time to acknowledge, support, and celebrate one more form of diversity that is too often ignored: socioeconomic diversity.

As someone from a poor and rural background who attended an upper middle class college as an undergraduate, I can tell you that your proposal is counterproductive for both students and the wider community.

Poor students do not have "different needs", they have different aspirations. Class is not deficiency that needs to be remedied emotionally nor does it bring a superior worldview that needs to be imposed on those either above or below. Creating artificial environments for students based on skin color, class, sex, or sexual interest gives students the false impression that these qualities are completely determinative in terms of professional or social success - they are not. It also confuses outsiders who may believe (rightly or wrongly) that group membership trumps talent.

Thanks for posting!