This week has been Money Matters Week, with programming about class and socioeconomic diversity, along with a push by the Quest Scholars Network to post anonymous confessions about class. While the attention being brought to these issues will help spur discussion, it definitely just covers up a larger problem.
One of the most visible parts of Money Matters Week has been QSN’s NU Class Confessions. These anonymous confessions encourage short snippets instead of personal conversations, and while I understand why anonymous confessions may help some, this conversation can not stay behind our computers. We need to talk to people about our situations, because it won’t improve in the quiet. While Money Matters Week encourages some discussion, one event per day for a week is not going to bring about the kind of discussion that will last.
My mom can no longer work because of health issues and my dad did not have a job for most of my high school career. My parents never lied and said everything was fine, but I never heard the full extent either. There were whispers between them of not knowing where money for much needed repairs would come from, how we would pay the mortgage or which card to pay on. My parents were always good with money, which masked the issues and allowed me to live in relative comfort. Eventually, as I got older, the money got tighter, and I had no choice but to face the reality. The veiled conversations became candid discussions between me and my parents where we talked about the situation we were in. Those discussions helped tremendously because they showed the state of our circumstances, and allowed me to understand the decisions my parents made, and allowed me to help.
The discussions with my parents reflect the kind of discussion that we need to have at Northwestern, because without discussion nothing can advance. Dialogue here at Northwestern is important because not every high school student has to deal with these issues. In high school, class was not as big a deal, because you spend a little money out with friends, but your social life isn’t intertwined with school in the same sense as it is in college. Most people knew about my situation, but it did not seem important because I wasn’t around my peers all the time. Now coming to college as a freshman, I find it difficult to bring it up because I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, and I don’t want to be a drag, but I have to talk about it anyway. Despite how difficult it can be, if my friends are the kind that I would want to stick around, they will understand, and I have had to realize that in my time here.
The discussion here at Northwestern is mostly nonexistent. Many of the confessions mention difficulties paying for things, or avoiding going out, but I've rarely heard people actually say they can’t go out because they are tight on money. The confessions proved that people are bottling up a lot about their lives and situations, and it shows in the avoidance of talking about money here. It was sort of a surprise coming into school and not hearing anybody talk about money, because in high school people talked about their jobs, saving money on prom and how much gas cost. It feels stifling to not be able to talk about my situation, and the relative nonexistence of discussion is causing it to be even harder to talk about it as we go on.
In some of the confessions, writers confessed some anger towards other classes in pretty harsh ways. Maybe they were just frustrated, maybe they just don’t understand other’s experiences or maybe they actually do feel what they said. Either way, being accusatory and belittling other peoples’ experience doesn’t help the conversation at all. The confessions lashing out are symptoms of the fact that there has been limited discussion in the past.
Money Matters Week is a good first step, but the fact that it’s something we only discuss for a week, and then most likely promptly drop, shows that we need a sustained conversation. The anonymous confessions have a common thread that people have trouble discussing these issues out loud, and the anonymous discussion are helping push people towards realizing they are not alone. Northwestern needs to learn to discuss the issue, and until we can do that, students will continue having these difficulties in fitting in and feeling comfortable here.
Students need to take charge to keep up conversation about class. We can’t leave it to facilitated discussions for one week, because when’s the next time the topic will come up? Confessing hardships or privilege without apprehension is extremely difficult, but the possible backlash is just the result of the class rarely being discussed. College is about learning both in and out of the classroom, and one of the best ways to learn about the world is from other people’s experiences.
Note: A previous version of this story stated that Money Matters Week discussions were led by faculty. Thanks to Emily Rivest for pointing out this error.