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viewpoint

My parents are not coming to Junior Parents Weekend

| Tuesday, February 7, 2017

In theory, Junior Parents Weekend (JPW) is a wonderful opportunity to showcase and celebrate the accomplishments of Notre Dame juniors. However, I cannot help but consider the event with some hesitancy because of an underlying sense that my family’s financial situation draws a vast contrast from the majority of those who attend the university.

Statistics from the Office of Financial Aid seem to reinforce this feeling; 10.6 percent of enrolled students in the class of 2020 come from families with yearly incomes less than $60,000. A few components of JPW seem to highlight some of the disconnect which low-income students may experience at Notre Dame.

As my parents looked at the informational page about JPW online, they noticed certain buzzwords such as “gala” and “luncheon.” These are not experiences to which my family is accustomed. A couple hours after reading the information, my mom searched YouTube in the hope of discovering what a “gala” entails. Though I laughed at her action, I realized that I myself have also never attended a gala.

In addition, when reading up on the “recommended” attire for certain JPW events, the mention of khakis caught me by surprise. Though it may seem like an overreaction, I became slightly anxious at the thought of buying an article of clothing that I have not owned for over 10 years.

Coming from a household in which money is often tight, many of the purchases I make are unnecessarily cognizant of the fact that I should save money whenever possible. Extending beyond the khakis, I started to feel anxiety at the idea of my parents spending a large sum on car rentals, hotels, flights and even attire for an entire weekend. For my parents, JPW would not be a mini-vacation, but rather a large financial sacrifice.

It seemed that through the participation in such stately events, fancy attire, and a “cocktail-party atmosphere,” my parents and I would feel completely out of place. We could not help but perceive JPW as a weekend in which certain economic and social circles thrive. Not the circles of the working class, but rather those of the upper echelons, which make up the majority of the student body.

To reiterate, there is nothing wrong with coming together as a Notre Dame community to enjoy the company of one another. In fact, the strength of community is a value that Notre Dame students and alumni claim to uphold. Like in any society or organization, however, there is always the potential for alienation. Though unintentional, the implementation of such specific dress codes at JPW is a subtlety insensitive gesture toward those of lower socioeconomic status.

Because my parents do not have consistent interaction in social circles of the upper class, they will feel out of their element at JPW gatherings. If they were to come, my parents would not have the luxury of talking to others about their master’s (or bachelor’s) degrees, or the most recent vacation they went on, or the spacious hotel at which they are staying for JPW. Though it would be foolish to think these are the only topics which will be discussed at JPW events, I am certain that there would be inevitable conversations that would make my parents and I aware of the fact that we are outliers at a school which is highly attended by the upper class.

I do realize that Notre Dame will never be a place in which those of low socioeconomic status make up a significant portion of the student population. This idea is unfeasible because those who are able to pay full tuition are a vital component of the university’s ability to continue operation at its current pace. However, the presence of economically disadvantaged students at Notre Dame should facilitate one of the most important functions of a university: the opportunity for students to interact with and learn from other young people from a variety of different backgrounds and beliefs.

In line with this thinking, I would urge the university to continue to make socioeconomic diversity a priority. A small way to make JPW more inclusive toward low income families could be a revision of the dress code to a more broad recommendation of ‘formal attire’ for certain events. Such vagueness will reduce the anxiety of having to buy specific attire. The less alienated a group feels at Notre Dame, the more open they will be to participate on campus and engage in conversation about issues such as these.

Though my parents and I are not participating in JPW for a variety of reasons, we are nevertheless very grateful to be a part of the Notre Dame family.

 

Patrick Rodgers
Junior
Feb. 5

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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Letters to the Editor can be submitted by all members of the Notre Dame community. To submit a letter to the Viewpoint Editor, email viewpoint@ndsmcobserver.com

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  • I am BT

    Did this person go to St. Petersburg Catholic High School? Some things in the letter do not ring true.

    • Jeff

      To make assumptions about someone’s social or financial situation because they were fortunate enough to attend Catholic high school is certainly a misjudgment considering one is not aware of specific details relating to the finances of a particular family.

      • I am BT

        I assumed nothing about his financial situation.
        Socially, some things don’t ring true. Namely, not understanding that “luncheon” is a big word for “lunch,” and – given the assumption I made about his high school – people of different backgrounds can and do mix in social settings.

        • Walt Osgood

          He wants the University to start a funding for the POOR!!!!!!!! Wonder how much of a scholarship he is receiving? GROW UP!!

    • Shaley

      I went to a private Christian school while living around/on the poverty line. You can be afforded great opportunities and still be socioeconomically disadvantaged.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for giving a voice to this issue, Patrick. My family is in the same boat. ND definitely has a different definition of ‘normalacy’ than most places !

  • I am BT
    • Jeff

      Just because there is a gala at that high school does not mean his family attended. Just because there is Junior Parents Weekend in college does not mean his family will attend.

      • I am BT

        He state that his mother didn’t know what a gala was, and by implication neither did he. If he went to that school, it is near inconceivable he was unaware of their big fundraiser that was termed a gala.
        My comments are not about what he has or what events his family has attended. They are about his words. I have said they do not ring true.
        “my mom searched YouTube in the hope of discovering what a “gala” entails.”

        • Jeff

          It’s easy to make accusations out of context:

          “As my parents looked at the informational page about JPW online, they noticed certain buzzwords such as “gala” and “luncheon.” These are not experiences to which my family is accustomed. A couple hours after reading the information, my mom searched YouTube in the hope of discovering what a “gala” entails. Though I laughed at her action, I realized that I myself have also never attended a gala.”

          ‘accustomed’ is not synonymous with ‘knowing’

          he focuses on how his parents (not himself) were not accustomed

          He did not say that his parents were ignorant of the word ‘gala’

          It is one thing to know that a gala is a special event. It is another thing to know the inner workings of a gala. His mother clearly didn’t know the specific details of a gala.

  • Colleen

    Thank you for writing this. I had the same experience eleven years ago as a junior. My parents could not afford to come to Junior Parent Weekend. I remember vividly attending my dorm luncheon and awkwardly standing around with the RAs because I was the only person from my class who did not have family attending. It was perhaps the day that I least felt like part of the “Notre Dame family.”

    I don’t know what the solution is–JPW is a beloved tradition, and for most Notre Dame students, a really special time with their families. As such, it holds a lot of value. But I think there is a lot of value in writing a letter like this, and being vulnerable. It allows other members of the Notre Dame family an opportunity to show compassion and reach out to those who are feeling very alone because of this kind of situation.

    • conway0516

      I agree that not being able to attend for financial reasons is a valid excuse, and a struggle for many. However, the writer takes it a step further and assumes that his family would feel out of place. He blames it on the dress code as well. This is a very different argument than the one you articulated.

  • conway0516

    Patrick, I am sorry that you and your family feel excluded from JPW events. It is my opinion that it is quite foolish to assume you aren’t welcome because you are of a different socioeconomic status. I completely understand not having the financial means to attend. If your family lives far away from South Bend, rounding everyone up, getting on a plane, renting a car, staying in a pricey hotel isn’t so feasible. If that is your argument, that’s fine but you take it several steps further. The University and various dorms actually have some funds (albeit small) set aside for cases like yours. I think the last thing the university wants is to exclude people from events. Have you inquired about this?

    I can speak from my experience at JPW. I do not come from a wealthy background. My family income was less than the number you outlined above. My parents don’t wear a suit and tie to work everyday. However, they do own one for events where culture and decorum dictates you wear one. They didn’t attend college. They don’t have masters degrees. What they do have is a love for their child and a desire to be part of the community. So they went, sat with parents of different backgrounds and had a great time. No one discussed their wealth or college experience. The focus was on current lives, and the students they all came to spend time with. Most people, in my experience, are relatively regular. Just looking to make small talk. And the one thing everyone in that room has in common is having a student at Notre Dame. It’s a bond not everyone can identify with and have a connection to.

    Now I must say, the fact that you are complaining about a dress code is crazy and a very poor excuse. What you are saying is your and your family’s entire wardrobe consists of all denim pants, sweat pants, and other athletic wear. No one has a pair of pants they can wear? It really doesn’t take much to assemble a wardrobe for a function slightly more formal than sitting on your living room couch. If you wanted to make the effort, there are charities that can help, or you can borrow things. A new pair of pants and a collared shirt can be had at Wal-Mart or Target for little more than $20 and may last you several years.

    I don’t know what you plan on doing with your life post-college, but I suggest finding a way to buy yourself at least one pair of pants that falls outside of the denim or sweat pants category, a collared shirt, and a tie. You can always borrow a jacket. Yet some places sell full ensembles for $150-$200. It wasn’t that long ago that people wore suits and ties to attend baseball games and the zoo. I am not being condescending by stating this. I am simply offering you advice. It will take you far in life…interviews, dinner invitations, and meetings. If you ever want to stop identifying yourself as someone with “lower socioeconomic status,” you should start thinking and acting like someone who wants to break out of that. Dress for the part you want to have, not the part you’re playing.

    • ND Student

      Conway, you misunderstand Patrick’s point and display an unfortunate lack of empathy in the process. Nowhere does he say that he should not have to buy khaki pants or a suit. Nowhere does he mention that he intends to eschew a “professional” wardrobe for the rest of his life. He is simply writing to share his perspective, which I believe is a valuable reminder that there are many innocent ways in which the university might make students who are not wealthy feel alienated.

      Above all, Patrick does not begrudge the university for putting on JPW nor does he appear bitter towards the social circles that he does not feel included in. His piece is a kind and helpful reminder that there is more we can do to be cognizant of the backgrounds of students like him.

      I am saddened by the condescension implicit throughout your comment. I think you honestly want to be helpful in your recommendations, but you should recognize that you come across as insensitive, insistent that Patrick approach JPW through your eyes and experiences (ironically, Patrick is inviting you to do the same for him). When you say that your parents “don’t wear a suit and tie” but they do have “a desire to be part of the community,” you imply (intentionally or not) that Patrick’s parents lack the latter. When you call anxiety about a dress code “crazy and a poor excuse,” you completely delegitimize his personal experiences and assume that there is no possible way that someone could reasonably fret over that. A modest amount of empathy would allow you to understand that while such a thing may seem absurd to you, it is a very real part of others’ lives. Have you considered the extra layer of anxiety that comes with knowing that your peers my look down on you for being anxious in the first place? Do not presume that because you also do not fit into the mold of “upper class ND student” that your experiences should be a benchmark for Patrick.

      I could go on – your implication that your advice and personal experience is what Patrick needs to go far in life, or that this is within his grasp if only he “wanted to make an effort.” You cast Patrick as a needlessly-worried student who lacks industriousness, coming from a family who just needs to suck it up for the sake of community. This is so far from the truth. I encourage you to practice a higher level of empathy and consider that these anxieties and decisions may well be legitimate, even though they are different from your own.

      Bravo, Patrick. I appreciate your voice, and you are an inspiration for others here who may be nervous about sharing their experiences.

      • conway0516

        ND Student – I could go on, too.

        I understand his point completely, and I do empathize. You say he doesn’t begrudge the university. Yes, he does, in regard to this particular event. That’s the whole point of writing his article. I empathize with his situation and his family. However he is making very broad classist assumptions about everyone else’s family stating that they won’t be welcoming to them. That is where I feel he is wrong. And then he goes on to use the dress code as an excuse. According to his feelings, everyone who puts on a nice pair of pants to attend this event also goes on fancy vacations and has advanced degrees that they want to discuss at cocktail parties. I’m simply saying that is not true and maybe dressing up might not always have a negative connotation. He feels he is an outlier (his word) and I truly feel that is a result of his own insecurity. He’s pretty much saying “these people have more money than I do and will make me feel uncomfortable.” To me, it’s a pretty superficial way to look at the ND community and other students’ parents.

        Again, I completely 100% understand the lack of financial means to attend an event like this. But his argument goes much beyond simply not having the money to attend.

  • poppy

    it’s probably really awkward to work/cater/serve the JPW luncheon while watching your classmates eating with their parents.

  • Yvonne Orr

    I read the comments and went back to read the article again, surely I missed something.
    Here’s what I read: this young man has great empathy. He illustrates this by placing himself in the position of others and anticipating the anxiety and apprehension the event will undoubtedly cause. He uses his parents as an example for the rest of us to understand. No where did he ask for a hand-out.
    I am quite surprised to see such harsh comments – you fuel his argument well.

  • Yvonne Orr

    I read the comments and went back to read the article again, surely I missed something.
    Here’s what I read: this young man has great empathy. He illustrates this by placing himself in the position of others and anticipating the anxiety and apprehension the event will undoubtedly cause. He uses his parents as an example for the rest of us to understand. Nowhere did he ask for a hand-out or funding by ND.
    Some of the comments support his viewpoint by personal experience, some comments highlight those that overcame the anxiety while other comments are quite harsh.
    I am quite surprised to see such harsh comments – you fuel his argument well.

  • DW

    I don’t want to chime in here with the wrong sentiment. There are a lot of institutional things here that I agree with and the weekend certainly puts odd pressures on non socioeconomically advantaged students. The university does have a fund to help students for people in tough circumstances and most (or all) costs are covered to help each student take place in what many consider standard ND experiences. http://studentaffairs.nd.edu/division-directory/other-student-services/rector-fund/

  • William Gartland

    It seems as though the author is focused mostly on the differences – rather than the similarities. If he approached attending ND with the same obsession with differences…well, maybe ND wouldn’t have been his intimate choice.

    As an undergrad at ND, I had plenty of friends who came from similar economic backgrounds as myself. We didn’t really worry about what our parents wore; after all, it’s more than clothes that make the man/woman.

    Lastly, as far as the cost of attending: that’s a decision that the author’s parents are fully capable of making on their own. If they can’t afford to attend, they would say so. If they choose to sacrifice to make the trip, who is any child to tell their parents “you shouldn’t have to spend your money…”?!

    Yes, there is quite a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds amongst the student body at ND; but there is at least one thing they all have in common: a shared love of Our Mother’s University. It’s surprising the power our similarities can have if only we give them a chance.

    Will G, class of 2007

  • William Gartland

    It seems as though the author is focused mostly on the differences – rather than the similarities. If he approached attending ND with the same obsession with differences…well, maybe ND wouldn’t have been his ultimate choice.

    As an undergrad at ND, I had plenty of friends who came from similar economic backgrounds as myself. We didn’t really worry about what our parents wore; after all, it’s more than clothes that make the man/woman.

    Lastly, as far as the cost of attending: that’s a decision that the author’s parents are fully capable of making on their own. If they can’t afford to attend, they would say so. If they choose to sacrifice to make the trip, who is any child to tell their parents “you shouldn’t have to spend your money…”?!

    Yes, there is quite a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds amongst the student body at ND; but there is at least one thing they all have in common: a shared love of Our Mother’s University. It’s surprising the power our similarities can have if only we give them a chance.

    Will G, class of 2007