Editor’s note: The following statement by the Swarthmore Organization for Low-Income Students (SOLIS) was originally published on Swarthmore Voices.
It is with regret and frustration that we, the SOLIS board, feel compelled to, once again, respond to ignorant statements that fail to understand the institutionalized ways in which low-income students are continuously disadvantaged and unsupported on campus. These statements, which attacked the wider low-income population with claims of political disengagement and civic apathy, undermine the hardships of being a low-income Swarthmore student. They were thoughtlessly posted onto a thread of conversation on a social media post.
The initial post claims that those who say, “I am not political” can do so because they are privileged to the point that politics are impersonal to them. The first comment presented a graph depicting how low-income individuals are the least likely to vote, sparking discussions about the limited definitions of political engagement. It was followed by a comment claiming that another reason why some choose to be apolitical is due to their refusal to engage with the chaotic political system. The conversation that ensued was particularly egregious because it falsely equated the disengagement of the oppressed with the political apathy of the privileged. Although both of these claims are problematic, we feel it is especially important to address the claims of later comments that suggested that once you hold the privilege of being a Swarthmore student, you no longer embody the struggles of the poor community. In this piece, we hope to expand the conversation for why this line of thinking is particularly dismissive of the struggles of low-income and/or first-gen students.
The social media post assumes that privilege and class are simplistic concepts that change under the most minor of conditions (i.e., being at Swarthmore), and while it may be true that being a Swarthmore student is a form of privilege conferred upon low-income students, this privilege does not erase the complexities and the experience of classism at such elite colleges and universities. The hardships that come with belonging to a disadvantaged socioeconomic class are not overturned after attending a college like Swarthmore, and thinking so lends itself to the idea that it is personal responsibility and hard work—that which is thought to have brought us to Swat—that facilitate class mobility.
Being low-income at Swarthmore, contrary to popular belief, does not automatically lead to a plethora of easily accessible opportunities. Instead, what we find is that there is a dearth of professional and educational opportunities, leaving low-income students at a loss for how to navigate the college experience while also bearing the burden of their personal financial needs, personal needs that the school fails to meet. The lack of guidance and financial, even moral, support on campus is not new. We are reminded of another article that brazenly claimed that we, as low-income students, should be grateful to our wealthier peers for our existence on this campus.
While such articles and comments are alarming and humiliating, they are symptomatic of a larger effort to silence low-income students by actively pushing the ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ narrative, attacking our presence, and denying to meet our needs. The student body has converged with the administration to, for example, deny supplying even the most common sense of needs: funding for SOLIS. Our lack of sufficient funding, a mere $22, is indicative of the dismissal of the financial struggles of not just SOLIS members, but low-income college students at large. Supplying such basic support is not just an issue of failing to meet our monetary needs, it is symbolic of how these elite institutions do not automatically prepare low-income students for the success we deserve. Thus, it is clear that the class mobility that many claim we are benefitting from is, unfortunately, not a reality.
In an environment where the struggles and existence of low-income students are constantly questioned and invalidated, we want to offer not just solidarity for all those who have been personally hurt by such ignorant claims, but also offer a time and space in the coming weeks for the Swarthmore community to join us and engage in discussions of classism, what it means to be low-income on Swarthmore’s campus, and what civic engagement may look like for low-income individuals. We hope that those who need solidarity will feel comfortable enough reaching out to SOLIS for any personal support they may need in times of such blatant ignorance.
Featured image courtesy of Reuters.