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All that glitters is not gold

Mia Lillis | Thursday, September 5, 2013

“When people ask why you aren’t participating in things on this campus, you can’t tell them why. If you talk about money, then you’re horribly gauche. Money never features into their equation, because they never have to worry about it. But it’s a part of my life. My lack of money influences almost everything in my life.”
At the risk of sounding horribly gauche, let’s talk about money. The Notre Dame community often suffers from a lack of sensitivity to students who are not upper middle class. While ostracized students that I have spoken with indicate that such insensitivity is not necessarily malicious but rather, due to ignorance, it is nevertheless problematic on a campus that claims to be an inclusive family.  Unfortunately, our campus is driven by a frequently erroneous assumption that money exists when it comes to social life, political discussions and general everyday concerns.  
Participating in the social life at Notre Dame is undeniably expensive. Want to celebrate a friend’s birthday by going out to The Mark? That will cost you $10 to $15, especially if you plan on splitting the check. Want to go out with friends to the bars? Hope you are wearing something “cute” if you are a girl. At the very least, failing to dress up will make you feel out of place among your girlfriends. At the worst, you will be told by a drunk individual to “go home and put nicer clothes on.” A cute outfit will cost $10 to $15. Is that bar in walking distance? If not, you will have to spend $6 on cab fare. If the bar has a cover, you will lose another $3 to $5. If you plan on drinking at the bar, there goes another $3 to $30. And, of course, this is assuming you even have the time to go out with friends, which may not be the case if you are working 30 hours per week to pay for room and board. Speaking of room and board, do you want to wear the new dorm hoodies the rest of your dorm is proudly flaunting? That will be another $15 to $30. For some students, these expenses are no big deal, but for others who desperately empty childhood piggy banks and sell possessions in order to afford football tickets, these casual, “everyday” expenses are simply too much.
In fact, many students with a tight budget opt out of buying football tickets altogether. While some students from lower income families may use the Rector’s Fund to buy tickets, this fund grants a limited amount of money, and as one friend indicated, if you must choose between tickets and textbooks, the choice is obvious. But failing to buy tickets often elicits harsher judgment and derision than any other Domer faux pas. I personally did not buy football tickets my freshman year, mostly because I was uninterested in football at the time and was not yet aware that football is an integral part of the social life here. Gradually, friends and acquaintances discovered my absence, and the judgment I received from some of them was brutal. While one may argue that such harshness was directed toward my reasons rather than the act of opting out itself, it is important to remember that students who cannot afford tickets frequently use the same excuses to avoid awkward discussions about their finances. Such harsh judgment rubs salt into the wounds of students that would like to participate in Notre Dame tradition but cannot afford to do so.
Political discussions can also be a nightmare for students of lower socioeconomic status, with them frequently finding their personal situations objectified and reduced to generalizations. For example, one friend found it difficult to endure a peer’s lambasting of American citizens on food stamps since his family had needed food stamps for a good portion of his life. Another felt degraded when a peer that supported privatized health care called citizens left without health care a “necessary evil.” He has had dental problems for the past decade and has been unable to fix them due to lack of health care.
Every situation described above was based on a true story told to me by anonymous members of the Notre Dame student body. These are not merely hypothetical concerns. They are real, ostracizing experiences of students at Notre Dame. If we claim to be a family, perhaps we ought to reexamine our social and verbal habits. Perhaps instead of planning section outings to GameStop, we can instead plan section Mario Kart tournaments. Perhaps instead of giving our friends a hard time when they fail to join us at the bars, we can host social gatherings at our own apartments. Perhaps instead of using charged rhetoric such as “handout seekers” in political discussions, we can think twice before we speak. Our individual actions have shaped the culture of insensitivity on this campus and our individual actions can foster a more compassionate environment for all members of our family.

Mia Lillis is a senior living in Cavanaugh Hall. She can be reached at
mlillis@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.