SJD: Breaking Barriers. Wednesday, September 30th at 7:30pm in the Math and Science Atrium.
What It’s Like to Be Low-Income at Emory
Being low-income at Emory is sort of like being alone. Every person I’ve talked to talks about it like they’re the only one who experiences it. “I didn’t go to a high school like everybody else did,” they say. “I can’t do any of the things other students do because I have to work.” And I want to say, me too, but I don’t want it to be a competition, because if you’ve ever taken the privilege walk, you know that being low-income doesn’t just mean you don’t have a lot of money. It can mean you have a computer, but you don’t have health insurance. Or you go out on the weekends, but you also contribute money to your family’s caretaking. Your poor doesn’t look like my poor but neither of us could afford to go here unless our mothers worked for five years straight with no bills and yet here we are.
And being low-income at Emory is sort of like getting slapped in the face every day, because every day you wake up to people who drive gorgeous cars that they didn’t pay for, with namebrand clothes that they didn’t pay for, with passports with stamps that they didn’t pay for, and with Macbooks, iPhones, and iPads that they did not pay for. And every day there’s some new insult to who I am on this campus, like a parking pass that costs more than half of what I paid for my car, or a sign to boycott Wal-Mart. I can’t afford not to shop at Wal-Mart. And there really isn’t anything that grinds my gears quite like shaming poor people in the name of poor people and PS, Target and Wal-Mart have the same average hourly wage for their cashiers, so unless the protestors are going to start paying for my toothpaste and deodorant, they can stop hating on Wal-Mart.
Being low-income at Emory is sort of like becoming someone else. At Emory, you’re the student leader, the academic, the studious class-goer, the sitter on the quad. You’re the one next in line at Twisted Taco and the one flashing your prox card to get back into your dorm. And when you go home, you remember who really you are. You’re the one who did something with her life. The smart one. The one who’s going to buy her dad any musical instrument he wants one day, who’s going to take her mother to New York City for the first time, who’s going to carry everyone’s hopes and dreams and expectations until home doesn’t feel at all like home anymore.
Emory has been educational in so many more ways than I ever knew it would be. For example, I was not convinced that people actually shopped at Old Navy – my favorite pants are indeed Old Navy, but I paid $7 for them at a thrift store. I also was not aware that there are people in the world who go on cruises for Spring Break, but there are. I did not know there were restaurants nicer than Outback Steakhouse, did not know that people actually pay to take SAT courses, did not know that there were jobs like consulting and investment banking and physician’s assisting because where I’m from, everyone works in food service, retail, or, if they’re lucky, nursing. And being low-income at Emory is sort of like being brought into an elite club you didn’t know you were joining until you were already in it, because I learned all of those things as part of my initiation. But there is no trace of the teachings from where I came. Nobody here is taught that when you donate toys to poor children, you have to remove or scratch off the barcode so that it won’t be returned for drug money. Nobody here is taught what DFCS means. Nobody here is taught every home remedy in the book because you don’t have insurance, and you can’t afford to be charged for not having insurance. Nobody here is taught what it is like to spend the summer being asked “Is this what you imagined for yourself, being a waitress at Waffle House?” by customers who assume you didn’t graduate high school. Those aren’t things I learned at Emory. Those are things that I learned every day before I got here.