This February, Bhavika Anandpura ‘19 wrote a brilliant article for The Forum revealing the socioeconomic makeup of the Claremont McKenna student body. The article reported on statistics from an Equality of Opportunity Project study that revealed CMC’s fairly low “overall mobility index,” which measures the accessibility of elite U.S. universities and colleges to students of varying income levels. Among many other shocking findings, the study labeled CMC as one of the 38 colleges in the United States where there are more students from the top one percent than there are from the entire bottom 60 percent.
The findings of this study should have sparked critical discussion on campus. Following its publishing, there was a short period of “shares” and “likes,” but as quickly as the article was released, it blended into the Forum website among photo essays and life advice. Students seem to forget that the disparities revealed by this study continue to affect our community. The marginalized socioeconomic status of some students at CMC limits their academic and social experiences. This is not just a “hot topic” for the week; money and background bleed into every aspect of CMC culture.
Every day when I drive into the apartments’ parking lot, I park my car next to multiple BMWs, Audis and Mercedes. Many seniors will embark on long and exciting post-graduation trips to Europe and Asia in a few weeks, so the big question after “what are you doing after graduation?” is “where are you traveling?” Students spend weekends off campus enjoying a fancy mimosa brunch in Malibu or sporadic trips to New York, and people look for any excuse to splurge on a new suit or a dress (or two) for the next formal party. Imagine being unable to relate to your friends or having to turn down social invitations on the basis of money.
The visibility of wealth and class on campus can often come out in everyday conversations. One day, I complimented someone on her necklace and seconds later found myself embarrassed about not being familiar with the brand “Planet Blue.” In fact, the person’s exact response was “Oh, you wouldn’t know it.” At a scholarship luncheon last week with alumni and trustees, the keynote speaker said: “When I was here I was the president of the Yacht Club, and I’m disappointed CMC doesn’t have one anymore.” These kinds of conversations happen all the time. You could create an “overheard at CMC” Twitter page for the casual “bougieness” of conversations around campus.
The income disparity is accentuated during California’s festival season. This week, a large percentage of our campus returned from either one or two weekends soaking in the sun and taking in the music at Coachella. I remember talking to some seniors my first year at CMC who were gushing about their weekends at Coachella. The one piece of advice I received from every senior was this: “You have to go to Coachella at least once in college.” This sentiment is still alive and well, as going to Coachella seems to be a requirement for “social graduation” from the colleges. “You’ll never be this close to it again,” “400 dollars isn’t that much for all the artists you get to see in three days,” and “what would you be doing anyway” are just three of many reasons I’ve been given for finding a way to finance this iconic and expensive festival. Similar justifications are given for the senior Vegas trip, “senior week” on the beach in San Diego, and lavish spring break trips in Cabo or the Caribbean.
Marginalizing experiences are not limited to CMC social life. These divisions are deepened in the classroom when individuals name-drop high profile friends or worldly experiences. Others feel it during internship season when friends are off in New York and San Francisco completing incredible internships and making important connections while others are interning from home because of high priced housing and other costs that CMC’s Sponsored Internship Program cannot fully cover.
This is not to discredit the institutional efforts made by CMC. We are fortunate to attend a great school with incredible resources that have allowed financially-privileged and low-income students alike wonderful opportunities. The Soll Center for Student Opportunities and the research centers on campus offer funded summer internships, and the Office of Global Education can help to subsidize travel for students with little travel experience before their semesters abroad. These characteristics make CMC an institution that attempts to alleviate socioeconomic inequities for its students, but the institution can only do so much to fix a culture embedded in a predominantly white and economically privileged student body.
It is the task of our community to address these issues within our campus. What CMC’s culture lacks is inclusion, awareness, and empathy. We need low-income students in ASCMC and other powerful student positions providing input on campus-wide decisions. We need students to be aware of the way their language marginalizes their friends and classmates. We need people to recognize that the world has privileged some and not others and to empathize with those circumstances. We, as a student body, must expect more from each other. This is a task for everyone. We might not be able to solve the country’s economic problems, but we can attempt to create a more comfortable and inclusive four-year experience for everyone, regardless of economic status.