What It's Like Being From a Working-Class Background at a Private Institution

I am eternally grateful for my public school education, especially now that I go to a private university. As much as I complained every day that I hated high school, I think my experience there was one that helped me understand the world. I went to a large public school that had four elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school. We were a big suburban school, with a majority of the students being from lower to middle-class families. This meant I grew up with people from different economic, racial, and political backgrounds. I was used to the differences among my classmates, it made class discussions fun. However even growing up in such a diverse school, you tend to find people who you can relate to and have similar life experiences with. This means my friends growing up also came from working-class families, and from an early age (being only eight years old when the housing bubble popped and the recession started) we were all well aware of our families' economic problems. This awareness of our own families’ economic issues also led to the awareness of how some of our other schoolmates didn’t have these issues and problems. We knew our families had it worse off than some classmates and even better than others and what that meant for how easy or difficult our life would be. We would openly joke about it, knowing that other kids in class would also laugh having possibly shared experiences, coming from low-income working-class families. There was never a sense of shame that came with being poor in my school district, everyone was aware of the economic differences and was pretty empathetic towards one another. I really never felt different from the wealthier or poorer kids growing up thankfully, the differences were never that polarizing. 

This is definitely not the case at Pace. If I was aware of how poor I was before I came to school in the city I am now very much hyper-aware of my economic standing. New York City is a city that prides itself on how wealthy it is. Even though I knew this fact, it never really crossed my mind that being at Pace, a private university situated in the Financial District that I would be exposed to exactly how wealthy the rich are. After my first year and few months here I can say that I am not used to rich people, I am not used to rich attitudes, and I am certainly not used to people having that much money. My first semester at Pace was pretty much comprised of me in awe of the number of people who talked about their beach houses, expensive sports cars, and nice vacations as if it was normal and not expensive luxuries. I consistently see Snapchat and Instagram stories of people going to really nice restaurants for brunch and dinners, not just once in a while, it’ll be the same people multiple times a week. These posts and even just walking through the hallway and seeing some Balenciaga sneakers; which I know are like the same price as NYC apartment rent, is a constant reminder that I am quite broke. Yet I wonder if rich people ever think about how wealthy they truly are when confronted with the realities of poorer people? Are they aware that their economic position comes with privilege? 

The lack of awareness I have witnessed here at Pace University has been extremely surprising. I have encountered a sort of “oh my god I didn’t know people actually went through that” mentality, it’s clear to see that they are not aware of their own privilege and how much life becomes easier once you have money. The most telling experience about this lack of awareness is when I had two people look at me with their jaws dropped when I told them that I go to the laundromat when I’m back home because I don’t have a washer or dryer there. Mind you, these weren’t even rich people, they’re from the upper-middle class, but it was obvious with their reaction that I had lived a different life than they did. Laundromats are common where I grew up and I knew a lot of other kids that used the laundromat too so I never saw it as weird or strange. But with their reaction to what I said I knew that it was weird for them. They were shocked to know that people actually went to laundromats, they then told me how their towns’ either didn’t have them or that they weren’t aware of their town’s laundromat. It was a shock to see them react so vividly to something I view as completely normal, but also because I wonder if they thought everybody had a washer and dryer in their home. Nonetheless, the situation showed me that there are many people at Pace that are not aware of how different and better their life is because of their economic standing.