My parents are not coming to Junior Parents Weekend
Letter to the Editor | 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.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.