A Critique of College Culture at Elite Institutions

by / 0 Comments / 391 View / May 30, 2016

On August 30th, I arrived at Williams College, Forbes’ #1 college in America for the year of 2015. I finally made the 2,880 mile journey to my newfound home for the next four years. I was accompanied by my father, an African American parole agent and my mother, a Caucasian insurance agent. As I walked on the campus of Williams College, located in rural Williamstown, Massachusetts, I asked myself a lot of questions. The first being: what was a middle class, biracial football player from California doing all the way in rural Massachusetts at a school that most of the people he had ever encountered had never heard of?

In fact, I ask myself this same question to this day, along with others. When I made the decision to attend Williams College, I did not realize what I was getting myself into. I had chosen the school due to the sheer possibility that I could exceed the income of my 50 year old father at the age of 21. That appealed to me. This goal was only deepened and questioned as I arrived on campus, and saw a lot of brands I had never seen before, leading me to the second question I asked myself: what were all of these brands?

I had never heard of brands like Vineyard Vines, Patagonia, Burberry, and Cole Haan. I quickly attributed this lack of awareness to my socioeconomic background as well as to my hometown. All of this was new to me. I did not come from a prestigious Northeastern preparatory school. My complete ignorance of how things were different in wealthy east coast areas led to a more difficult transition. I struggled to fit in with my fellow classmates. I had never had this issue before. I grew up in a traditional middle class home. I always lived in a nice neighborhood and through the struggles of my parents, was always able to attend private school, but at Williams, it was different.

At Williams, I felt that if I did not dress similarly to everyone else I would be looked down upon and even occasionally have my intelligence questioned. I felt as if I did not belong and this transferred over to the classroom as well. For the first time, I was asked to participate in discussion based classes where speaking in class is vital to my academic success. The only problem was that I was afraid to speak because I thought that other people would view me as intellectually inferior, because of the way I presented myself.

This same concept of presentation also proved true in the social scene. I realized that I would be viewed as an outlier if I did not dress similarly to others. I found it hard to cope with these newfound east coast “preppy” standards. And the pushback from my parents at home did not make the transition any easier. I was continually reminded of how much my school cost and how much sacrifice was made for me to go to school at a prestigious institution such as Williams College.

This led to my third question: why did I choose to attend Williams? I knew I was blessed and lucky to attend such a phenomenal school, but I questioned why I did not pick a school where I could have earned merit scholarships allowing me to attend without a cost that would burden my family. Why was I making my parents struggle, forcing them to take out student loans simply to graduate when I could have gone to a state school for free. It is a tough situation to be in and I felt that I was being compressed. I felt out of place.

I realized that by being middle class, I was not given the upper class privilege or the lower class accommodations. My parents and I were being stretched financially and required to pay an amount of money that is not actually affordable with all of the other expenses that my parents already pay, along with having to take out student loans that I will be required to pay once I graduate. This type of culture that is being perpetuated at some of the most elite institutions is going to create a place where middle class students do not feel welcome. This is dangerous because middle class students possess certain characteristics that add value to any school. America was built off of the middle class’ work ethic and I think that if elite institutions such as Williams do not change the culture and the accommodations, they are going to take the risk of losing middle class students because the current system is not made for the middle class.