Harvard: money for nothin and the dance is free

Unbelievably the Boston Globe entitled this story “The Harvard Disadvantage”.  They are referring to a special outreach program they have developed at this premier ivy league school to make “poor” scholarship students feel “more accepted” around Harvard’s elite, limousine liberal, trust fund baby, alumni kiddie, students. From the Globe:

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.”

Oh yes … he’s in Harvard, and now, no matter what your race, creed, or color … you my man are a Harvard man. Big bucks await if you work. But, no … the Globe says he’s “feeling” bad because the other kids are rich?  Wait there’s more.

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.

The biggest name in colleges … a $50,000 price tag, plus a name advantage now over all other students in the country, and it’s still not enough? No … the dorm dance, clothes  … what’s next, a cottage on Nantucket? Yeah, that’s it. Now you are a real Harvard man.

No … that’s not necessarily the attitude of the scholarship students at Harvard, but apparently it is the attitude of Harvard. Instead of celebrating the hard work of this student’s blue collar parents (and God bless them), and the individual achievement of the Miguel, Harvard is just dripping with pity because someone doesn’t feel good around rich people? Because these students don’t feel accepted around the limo libs? Are you kidding me? Good lord … welcome to the world of 95% of America.

Here’s what the article should have said:

Because Miguel worked his way into Harvard on his own merit and not on the back of a “rich alumni Daddy” or because he came from some famous family … the odds are all of those folks that make him uncomfortable, will be working FOR Miguel some day, because Miguel is the premiere example of personal freedom, and individual achievement, a life to be celebrated and not pitied. But then, that’s just my take.

3 replies
  1. PatRiot
    PatRiot says:

    College is a smack in the face for most young adults.  Their tight knit, mostly mono-economic culture of High schoo is GONE.  Reality sets in, lots of variety ALL the way around.  The hand up of financial aid is worthy.  The hand out of these other things is wrong. 

    I really think this particular student had the advantage already.  He knows how hard it is to make and keep a buck.  He will make better choices for it.  The rich kids don't.  If they don't get a Sweet handout job, they will be devestated. 

  2. Dimsdale
    Dimsdale says:

    I went out with a woman who went to Harvard.  Dropped her off at her dorm at the beginning of her freshman year, and was stunned to see her roommates sitting around comparing SAT scores.  Figured I wasn't in Kansas anymore, and hit the ground running.

    Just went to a regular college and earned my Ph.D. the old fashioned way: without Daddy's money.

  3. miguel0445
    miguel0445 says:

    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 

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