Poor on the hill: A message from a low-income student
September 17, 2019
LIZ ANASTASIADIS, Managing Editor — During my first visit to Denison, I made the three-hour trek in my 1999 jet-black Volkswagen Beetle to the humble hill. Creaking up the brick road, my power steering was starting to give out and my passenger side window didn’t go down. Swasey Chapel spotted from a mile away, Denison looked like a fantasy land that had no problems, no concerns. I just wanted to leave my hometown, I was thinking. Good riddance. I’m from Warren, Ohio. In Warren, people get shot at the gas station across from Warren G. Harding High School almost weekly, the school stood across from multiple crack houses and the city streets are a stark contrast to the well-tendered roads of Granville, Ohio.
Throughout this article, I hope to inform the community about the reality of being a low-income student at Denison.
During Aug-O, there was an exercise that we did in which a group of new students would step forward in a circle when a statement was made that applied to them. One of the statements was “I can afford to pay full tuition at Denison.” I was shocked to see almost half of the people in my group step forward at that statement. On the first day of classes, I saw people wearing designer clothing and sporting their parent’s debit cards to throw money here and there. I questioned why I was at this campus at all.
After my experience as a first-year, I considered transferring. I thought that little-to-no-one at the school could relate to my struggles — like having to say no to having dinner off-campus with friends because you have two dollars in your bank account, not doing laundry for almost a month because you didn’t have enough funds, the ability to pay for a working cell-phone. During my sophomore year’s fall semester, my computer broke during midterms and I spent almost every day in the library until the middle of the spring semester, when I could officially afford a new one. As a creative writing major and an active member of The Denisonian, I found that most of my homework required a computer that could type.
On top of this, I joined a sorority during my spring semester of freshman year. As of last semester, I’ve disaffiliated. The sorority lacked diversity racially (with there being only two People of Color in the entire sorority of upwards of 60 people at the time I left) and socioeconomically. Not to say that there was none at all, but most people who were in the sorority seemed like they did not have to pay for their own bills, let alone the price to stay a member. In order to throw up letters, I worked three on-campus jobs throughout the semester — during the weekend, I would work for Bon Appetit for at least 15 hours. ALL of the money I made went toward the sorority. I ended up quitting for reasons that aren’t only financial, but some people didn’t understand that in order for me to be there, I had to work hard. In order for me to be at Denison, I remain hard-working. Overly-expensive fees are common amongst Panhellenic sororities on Denison’s campus — the price of wearing letters for some is a price tag of around $1,000 for ONE semester with “new member fees.” The sorority I was part of in the Panhellenic council was the cheapest one available.
If you could stay, you have to look the part. That means purchasing letter t-shirts, matching outfits for the awaited “anchor splash” and more. Once, I was yelled at for not having enough money by a fellow sister to purchase a shirt. No one should feel lesser than someone else because their parents simply can’t afford to financially support them. This isn’t only a problem with the Greek Panhellenic organization that I was affiliated with, but it’s a problem of hierarchy within the entire council. At some universities, there’s financial aid offered by the university so eligible students can go greek. However, Denison’s Panhellenic council only offers a $100 scholarship to people who apply.
Recently, I came across a New York Times article titled: “What College Admissions Offices Really Want.” It goes on to showcase how elite schools like Denison say they’re looking for academic excellence and diversity, but their thirst for tuition revenue means that wealth trumps all, no matter what. This year, the Community Advisors (CA’s) at Denison were given a presentation before classes began during their training. It broke down the financial components of Denison’s student body in the entering class of 2017. In the CIRP Freshman Survey presentation, it was disclosed that an estimated 32.5% of Denisonians households make more than $200,000 a year. Another 28.3% make around $100,000 – $200,000 a year. That’s 60.8% of my class year, the class of 2021.
I’m not trying to be pessimistic about Denison. I’ve gotten a lot of support from the university and have been introduced to experiences that I don’t think I would gain anywhere else. I’ve found that there are people on this campus who share similar experiences to mine, but we are in no way the majority. Today, I pay for most of my bills. I can’t call up my dad (who is a single parent of four children) and ask him for money to help me. All I have to rely on is myself. I don’t have time to not do my homework, to slack off — for me, that’s the difference between staying here or being back at home working a part-time job to make ends meet. This is my reality. I encourage those who are struggling to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if they want to chat or simply, want a friend.