Zoe Mungin ‘11
As the cost of tuition goes up, yes, Wellesley becomes less affordable to its middle class population. However, I think it’s important to point out that Wellesley is never affordable to students who hail from lower class backgrounds. We attend Wellesley by the grace of financial aid and outside scholarships, hoping it’s enough so that we can gain an education that allows us to be more than our circumstances.
My mother doesn’t have a high school degree, doesn’t have the kind of job where she can drop a few thousand a semester, or even a year, to help out with the cost of tuition. From high school, I already knew: if a school required a parental contribution towards my education, then I wasn’t going, because it wasn’t going to happen. Case closed.
Being poor at a school like Wellesley is a miserable experience, for all the reasons outlined in Emily Loftis’ article and a thousand and seven more. Even if you make great friends, even if you learn cool things. The one cool thing: that first year, Wellesley wants you, and even if your family can’t afford the cost, Wellesley is all, ‘Aw, that’s okay. You can still come!’ I even got a grant for the Wellesley health insurance (thanks, Class of 1926!).
But let’s remember that Wellesley Financial Aid doesn’t give scholarships. The office aims to match your financial need, though I think a lot of students are realizing that Wellesley’s definition of need is sometimes completely different from the reality of the situation.
The rising cost of tuition along with this recession makes for a hard time for everyone. During my time at Wellesley, if my financial aid had been “slashed in half,” it wouldn’t have even been a question: my ass wasn’t going back.
However, when you come from a lower class background, your financial aid doesn’t have to be cut in half (which would have been about 25K for me, and, hello, what a joke). Your financial aid can be cut by just 5K,just a thousand. No, it doesn’t seem like much, not at all. But this is the sort of thing that uprooted my world from my sophomore year until graduation. Wellesley Financial Aid was never as nice and accepting of my financial status as they were when I was a prospie.
Here’s a story:
The summer before my senior year, Wellesley sent me my financial aid package late, on August 1st. Not for the first time, my need was not met. Fine, Wellesley, whatever. I asked for a loan, got the loan, but it wouldn’t be disbursed until September. Okay, I thought. Wellesley said, no, it’s not.
A little context: this was the summer of 2010, the summer when Wellesley put its foot down, made threats to drop you from all your classes, take away housing, if you didn’t pay balances on your account before classes started up.
If I had plans to return to Wellesley with the rest of the rush a few days before classes began, my loan not getting disbursed until September wouldn’t have been a problem. However, I’d been living at Wellesley for the summer, completing an internship as I stayed in the room that I’d have for the academic year. It was my second term as a summer RA; my second full year in residence life. Summer residents were required to vacate the dorms the weekend before Residence Life training began, training I was set to participate in once more, this year as a House President. Only I was told that I wouldn’t be allowed to participate in training this year, because there was an eight hundred dollar balance on my account; a balance that would be covered by the loan that had yet to disburse but, you know, was coming, not that it mattered to Student Accounts/Financial Aid.
So, for the first two weeks of August, I chain smoked. I had nose bleeds because my blood pressure was so high: stress from all the bullshit, but I also had a tumor the size of an orange growing in my uterus, and was pretty much certain that the things I’d associated with womanhood—my body, Wellesley College—were all rebelling against me at the same exact time. Financial Aid trouble wasn’t exactly a new thing with Wellesley, but, you know, still.
The point is, I was a twitchy motherfucker. I finished my internship, ignoring calls from Fin Aid, Res Life; even my mother. I cheerfully deleted emails from Dean O’Keefe, in which he solemnly informed me that I’d been dropped from all my classes, had to pack up all my shit and get the hell out of the dorms by XYZ time, because I’d lost my housing, wouldn’t be allowed to attend classes next semester, wouldn’t have the position in Res Life which I had pretty much dedicated my entire Wellesley career to, even though it was unpaid and took too much time. But, you know, if Wendy Wellesley could thesis and be president of three student orgs, then I could work 25 hours a week and be an HP.
Only, haha, no.
A few days before Res Staff training was set to begin, I had decided that I was transferring to community college, and that I never wanted anything to do with Wellesley College ever again.
And then my mother called. She’d paid the balance on my account, with her entire check. This is the sort of thing people had nervous breakdowns about, I thought. My mother told me to kill the melodrama, stop the moping. I told her I wanted to come home. ‘And do what?’ she said, and then she hung up.
I don’t think my story is special, not at all. I’m filled with stories from our Wellesley siblings, students who spent their time at Wellesley in financial situations similar to my own; things the poor kids talk about amongst ourselves. I have a friend who has lost housing every single semester, because of an unpaid bill, because, once, of what Wellesley perceived as an unpaid bill, all ‘Our bad! But we’ll give you a room in Davis Scholar housing now, even though you’re not a Davis Scholar, but we’ve already reassigned someone to your old room.’
I have friends who’ve been kicked out for a semester—‘Come back when you can pay!’
There’s that awkward, degrading feeling, standing in front of Lee Hanna, explaining, ‘No, I don’t know my daddy. No, I’ve never met my daddy. No, he doesn’t know that I go to school.’
The absolute worst: being told that your outstanding bill is only eight hundred dollars.
And to another friend: ‘Why can’t someone pay this for you?’
I’m appreciative of all I gained from Wellesley. I am so aware of its specialness and the necessity of such places in our world. But I’m willing to admit how much I hate it, too—particularly because of the ‘class warfare’ that goes on, pretty much silent, as—during my time on campus—class was something that was never seriously discussed. Forums like ‘Poor Little Rich Girl’ were filled with exactly that—’poor’ little rich girls. I attended once, my first year, and never went again.
It’s not anyone’s fault that they’re rich, but it’s always a problem when you’re poor. At Wellesley, we don’t talk about either.
I feel deeply for all the students that this tuition increase has impacted so hard. However, I think it’s important that we don’t forget that it’s not only the ‘depleted middle class’ that is affected by rising costs, and remember our siblings who have less than most. Some families may only be able to pay a certain amount every year, and any increase in the expected amount is a hardship. But some families can’t afford to pay anything, don’t have a space to talk about it, don’t even know where to begin.