Veronica Hernandez ’13
Last week, Smith College professor Kate Queeney published an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education discussing working and poverty class students at Smith. I knew from the title, “Making Good on Our Commitment to Needy Students,” that I wasn’t going to like what she had to say. The word “needy” alone implies many things, conjuring up images of tragically poor, desperate students grabbing and clinging and in need of care. Listen, the only thing I “need” is for you to stop. The article is nothing more than a stunning example of someone talking about working and poverty class students and our experiences, rather than talking to us.
In the article, Queeney mainly details her journey of enlightenment, from the time she breezily told a student that “everyone is poor in graduate school,” to her painfully blind understanding of Smith College’s financial services. Throughout the article, she simplifies these processes, downplaying the difficulties of being a lower-income and first-generation student here at Smith.
The only time I have ever been contacted about being a first-generation college student is now, in my senior year, when I have been invited to the “First Scholars Dinner,” a formal event – don’t even get me started on the expectations of dress or the way formal events make me cringe in discomfort. There exists little support on campus – both among the community and in the administration – for working and poverty class students, though Queeney argues that such support is “woven into every aspect of our community.” Says who? This professor who apparently didn’t realize poor people existed here until she met one? Forgive me for not really trusting that characterization of Smith.
Queeney goes on to detail some of this support from the administrative side. She mentions some great things: the interview suit lending at the Lazarus Center – which you still have to pay to get dry cleaned, by the way – and the creation of a program for supporting lower income and first-generation students in STEM fields. And these are wonderful things, really!
However, as I read the article, I felt a growing sense of anger and confusion. Smith offers waivers for the CSS Financial Aid profile? I wish I’d known that – and I wish that information was listed somewhere on their website. The enrollment deposit is waived for Pell Grant recipients? I wonder why that didn’t happen for me. And I certainly didn’t know study abroad was accessible to all students. Financial aid might cover travel, but it certainly doesn’t cover the extra costs of living abroad. Even doing a stateside program, such as the Smithsonian D.C. program, can be a considerable and insurmountable burden to students who rely on financial aid to cover costs such as housing and food.
More importantly, Queeney paints a picture of a Financial Services office that reaches out, supporting students who are “avoiding” important steps in the financial aid process. Not only does this wording place blame on students for being confused and overwhelmed by the financial process, it’s also not very indicative of what I and other low income students have experienced here. Not once have I been offered individual counseling for my financial aid. Queeney says the office keeps in contact with agencies designed to help first-generation college students. Where is the support for students these agencies should provide?
The exclusion of the voices of students is incredibly damaging here. The article doesn’t feature a single student insight, quotation or opinion. So often on this campus I have felt isolated and alone because of my financial background. Hearing the voices of other students like me is always an incredible and reassuring experience. To read yet another article that leaves our voices out is one in a series of small slights that we experience on this campus every day. So often we are talked about without anyone realizing we can contribute to the discussion.
Queeney had wonderful intentions, and it’s nice to see professors making an effort. I acknowledge that Smith is doing much better than many other private, wealthy liberal arts colleges. This article, however, seems to be only yet another vague understanding of this campus and class issues. I can’t help but wonder how many lower income students here have experienced the campus she describes.
Still, I guess, it’s nice to be mentioned at all.