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Diary of a DISprivileged Dukie

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Diary of a DISprivileged Dukie

12.7.16

For most people, when they see Duke they think of two things: brainpower and dollar signs.
And with a nearly 8 billion dollar endowment sitting pretty with the likes of your Harvards, Princetons and Yales, they wouldn’t be lying.

This campus screams money, but the general public does not know that there are students here whose very existence as an Ivy or Ivy+ Leaguer is dependent on high endowments and hefty financial aid packages. There are first generation college students here. There are students here that hail from small towns with low per capita incomes and high crime rates.

There are students here like me.

As if surviving at a place like Duke isn’t hard enough, we also bear the strain of being low or lower-middle socioeconomic status.

My mother is a teacher. As we know, the United States does not pay nor appreciate their teachers well. She is almost the sole breadwinner in my household and provides heavily for my younger siblings and I.

So when I told her Duke was my No. 1 draft pick, she did not shy away from the sticker price. Not going to college wasn’t an option and she was determined for me to live my dreams, even if she wasn’t afforded the opportunity to live her own.

We read and we researched and sometime in one December I got that coveted acceptance letter…and not an ounce of debt (and very few out of pocket expenses) to match.

We found a way.

But it wasn’t because I was somehow smarter than the other kids and Duke believed I deserved an all expense paid four year vacation to the Gothic Wonderland.

It was because I wasn’t rich like the other kids.

It was because, according to US Census Bureau, my family had been living at the line of poverty, even though we never lacked the basic necessities in life and had a little extra--my mother knew how to work with the scraps she was given.

So my “full ride” has come with a lot of mystery and neglecting to tell everyone how I did it. Because being low income is alienating and embarrassing, both in the real world and as a Dukie.

Unfortunately, students of lower socioeconomic status fall in the shadows at Duke. Many of our peers do not realize that Shooters adds up, we can’t shop at Harris Teeter and Whole Foods, work study takes up a lot of time and we don’t get to make our rooms all pretty with items from expensive department stores. We survive here as minimalists, trying to balance a rigorous education with the implications of being “poor,”

But I am not poor. We are not poor. We are rich so many things other than money in spite of not being afforded a financial privilege.

I remember when I saw the 'Woke' display in Marketplace and truly coming to terms with what it was like to be a low SES student here and how, as a collective, Duke or its community doesn’t value us (although they have done better with the Washington Duke scholarship introduced last year).

I think about how many students have difficulty booking flights home over breaks and how dreams of something like studying abroad falter because passports and international plane tickets are so expensive. Or how date functions and cocktail parties (much less Greek life) are often not an option because of the money they require. I think about how having a car on campus is virtually impossible and some struggle to pay to do their laundry. I think about how after food points run out, some students struggle to eat.

The majority of Duke students take things like this for granted. They roll in their privilege, in a place that is already privileged, and do not bat an eye at their peers that could be living the struggle. We have to do better.

As the semester comes to a close and finals hit us all, I challenge you to look at a picture of life that isn’t your own. And if you can and if they’re comfortable, offer to help—even if that means just listening.

And to those that are like me, being low SES is not the end of the world. You will get through. You will survive. And this 280K degree WILL take you places.