Sunday’s Run for the Green and Gold 5K acted as one of the first illuminations into an often invisible disparity between students on campus. Many students face financial problems and the weight of the wallet indirectly affects their social interactions on a daily basis.
To draw attention to the issue of socioeconomic diversity, students endured the chilly bite of the morning to run 3.1 miles around campus, raising money for Student Assembly’s $2,000 Socioeconomic Fund Scholarship, which the SA will award after an application process at the end of the year.
In terms of acknowledging and celebrating diversity at the College, frequently broadcasted issues like race, gender, and sexual orientation can often overwhelm the discussion of financial differences.
“I think most people don’t want to draw attention to [socioeconomic diversity] because it’s a sore subject,” Sarah Prowitt ’14, a race participant, said. “It’s almost a social norm to not talk about it.”
Though it is more comfortable to camouflage the financial inequalities, many aspects of students’ lives necessitate some acknowledgment of the topic.
“I think it is one of the most important issues on campus because William and Mary is a state school and with that comes the de facto privatization of schools like us across the country,” Edward Hunt ’03, a race participant, said. “State schools are supposed to promise access to higher education for the community in the area, but with the increasing fees and tuition that becomes impossible for people without the economic means.”
The cost of room and board, tuition and textbooks can weigh heavily upon students and their families; when struggling to fulfill these obligations, even modest expenses can seem momentous.
“During the hurricane when even the buses to Northern Virginia were a $25 charge — that’s going to mean something different to people dealing with hardships,” Anne Charity-Hudley, co-director of the William and Mary Scholars Undergraduate Experience (WMSURE) said. “It’s not always the large things but the small, unexpected events that come up — like if you have to go to the hospital and have to pay that bill — along with everything else going on campus.”
Additionally, economically disadvantaged students often struggle beyond traditional financial difficulties, contributing to an arduous acclimation into the William and Mary community.
“These students usually have problems besides money because money creates stress,” Alexa McDorman ’13, Undersecretary of Socioeconomic Affairs, said. “It’s a different culture and many low income students don’t graduate — but not because of money.”
This unique perspective can elucidate not only the struggles of these particular students, but also other factors that contribute to students’ time at the College.
“People have different economic backgrounds all the way across the spectrum and sometimes you don’t see how that diversity affects people — positively and in challenging ways,” Charity-Hudley said. “It’s important to look at how it affects who you’re friends with, your experiences in your courses, and also what happens with the experiences that you bring.”
As both a William and Mary Scholar and Undersecretary of Socioeconomic Affairs, McDorman acts as a liaison between the two separate organizations; her personal connection to this topic transcends planning the fundraisers and contributes to her viewpoint when making decisions and presenting ideas in the SA.
“I think it’s awesome to the student initiative in this because when you are a person of color people will know right away, but to see someone who maybe doesn’t look that different bring this up is something crucial,” Charity-Hudley said.
This 5K was the first of many events led by the SA Department of Diversity to raise money for the Socioeconomic Fund Scholarship and, in effect, to increase awareness about this type of diversity on campus.
“Beyond the 5K we’re going to be doing a couple of bake sales, a lot of open talks about socioeconomic problems at the campus, and we’re planning a benefit concert during the I AM WM week sometime next semester,” Brianna May ’12, Secretary of Diversity Initiatives in the SA, said. “Other than that, we are pretty much just taking small initiatives like sending information out to alumni asking for donations to the scholarship fund.”
Moreover, further involvement of others in the SA’s pursuits bolsters a greater sense of community engagement.
“From the Scholars viewpoint is just making students aware of what scholarships are out there, what programs are available, and knowing about opportunities like possible fee wavers when they’re applying to grad school,” Charity-Hudley said. “It’s not just that we need the money but we need the awareness so that students can know how we can help.”