As one might assume, I am becoming incredibly familiar with certain places on campus as a first-year student: my dorm, Val, the first-year quad. However, there is one place that I frequently occupy that most might not think to put on this list: the Quantitative Reasoning Center. Spending a lot of time in the Q-Center still doesn’t seem that odd, except for the fact that I am enrolled exclusively in humanities courses this semester. No, I am not seeking calculus help, but instead the half-dead printer in the center.
One of Amherst’s most publicized selling points is its financial aid. The College claims to make it possible for every student offered admission to attend this institution. With this in mind, it seems incredibly contradictory that the social and academic cultures of Amherst assume wealth rather than limited income. The convenient printing of Frost Library is not an option for those who barely scraped together their tuition for this semester. Instead, we save our pennies and trek across campus, down to the second floor of Merrill.
Although pay printing is a seemingly trivial matter that has a simple alternative for low-income students, it is a side effect of a much larger issue. Transgressions occur all over campus that, in many ways, alienate a substantial population of students. The issue stems from professors and administrators whose ignorance towards the needs of low-income students is in many ways adopted by the student body.
Many professors assume our ability to afford whatever we need when they emphasize the importance of purchasing our books from Amherst Books rather than online. I appreciate the value of supporting local businesses as much as anyone else, but when these books typically cost twice as much as used versions on Amazon, it is simply unrealistic. Not all professors acknowledge this reality. Many do not seem aware of any reason why we would not purchase our books locally except for that we are unaware millennials who complacently buy into the evils of big money. The expectation that students will have no difficulty meeting the costs associated with their classes, be it for a course packet or a field trip, is a perspective that ostracizes many of us.
Many low-income students must also take on the commitment of working one or more jobs both during the summer and the school year. This takes away their time for homework, participating in campus activities, building relationships with their professors, getting enough sleep and socializing with their peers, to name a few. In addition to this, Amherst emphasizes the importance of summer research and internships; it can be stressful to these students who know that money must always come first and their grad school application highlights second. Not enough support is offered for students who are required to commit so much time to working and must sacrifice many of the activities that administrators encourage be part of our college experience.
Moreover, the institutional invisibility of financial need, directly influences the way that students view each other as being overly able to afford social expenses. Beyond the world of academics, many social commitments place an additional financial hardship on students. In whatever communities they are in, whether it be a club, their residency or, perhaps most of all, an athletic team, students are often expected to pay social dues. These might include hosting parties, purchasing costumes for mixers or buying alcohol. Even if students aren’t partaking in such activities, simply hanging out with friends on a Friday night is likely to include costs for food or entertainment. If the administration pushed for broader awareness of the breadth and diversity of financial difficulties that many students face, student groups and social activities might also work to make themselves more conducive to these needs.
It’s not as if Amherst is unable to meet the needs of low-income students, but rather the way it distribute its funds assumes that these needs don’t even exist. Amherst offers funds for group outings, academic workshops and a myriad of other nonessential services. Sure, the explosion of free condoms in each first-year dorm is great, but I’d love to trade a few of those in for certain essential elements in student life like the ability to print required readings in Frost. It is imperative that Amherst strives to make this a community in which low-income students experience no additional hardships.