Do LSES students belong here?
Diversity Council | Tuesday, October 24, 2017
During my freshman year, I maybe attended one football game the entire season. When asked about my absence, I offered an excuse of an overwhelming workload in the form of exams or imaginary papers that may or may not have existed at all. The truth was too embarrassing to admit: I couldn’t afford the tickets. Tickets aside, I couldn’t even surmount the $20 price tag of “The Shirt” until about three games in; one game day, my roommate’s family friend gave me $20 and told me to go buy one, not taking no for an answer. This was a piece of my freshman experience at the University of Notre Dame.
The following year, having received a generous sum of scholarship money that, after moving off campus, I was able to utilize for things such as books, a partial meal plan, The Shirt and, finally, football tickets. At last, I could scream and ride the emotional roller coaster that close games give its fans, just like all of the other students. And as all the students went arm-in-arm, singing the alma mater, I finally felt truly a part of the Notre Dame community, something that I previously was not fully able to enjoy. This may be my personal story, but my dependency on the University’s financial resources is far from unique.
My name is Selwin Wainaina, and with Paul Kwak, I am the copresident of 1st-G ND, a student organization that works with the Office of Student Enrichment to help meet the needs of the University’s first-generational students and students of low socioeconomic status. As part of this organization, I have heard students give many similar narratives. We have heard of students being unable to afford necessities such as textbooks and winter coats, requirements such as club dues, or even tickets to social and athletic events such as the awe-inspiring football games. With its abundance of resources, including financial aid, what has the University provided for its students within these groups?
As of last year, we now have the Office of Student Enrichment (OSE). Through a small, hardworking staff, this office is designed to provide every student with the full Notre Dame college experience. The office was created to provide services such as peer mentoring, financial literacy courses and need-based funding for individual needs (e.g., a winter coat or a laptop). Interestingly, this office is not funded by the actual University; rather, the OSE depends on donors to assist in providing their services to the Notre Dame community. The Office of Student Enrichment originally opted to utilize donor funding as opposed to the University budget, allowing them to increase its agency in supporting the student body. As a result, while other offices may operate with relative agency in their respective sectors, the Office of Student Enrichment must be concerned about reaching out to the Notre Dame population, cautious that it may not possess the resources to provide services to everyone who seeks their assistance. If the OSE was created to provide the full Notre Dame experience to all students, shouldn’t they be provided the necessary tools to do so?
There are possible solutions to address inequalities of opportunity between the average Notre Dame student and low socioeconomic status (LSES) student on this campus. To put the first domino in motion, the University could begin to provide proper support for the Office of Student Enrichment. Naysayers may claim “At least they gave you the OSE, so stop complaining,” or as recently referenced, “Beggars can’t be choosers.” But to create the OSE without all necessary resources is like aiding a low-income family saying “Please help, we are starving and need food” with an air-filled McDonald’s bag with fry crumbs. If the administration truly wants to support the numerous communities that make up the broader “Notre Dame community,” it can’t just stop at fry crumbs. Otherwise, the University caters to a feeling of neglect by this minority group and breeds a lack of belonging for students who fall into this category.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.