Overcoming Material Envy

My parents and I immigrated from Gujrat, India to the United States when I was barely three-months-old. My dad had found a job in New Jersey as a computer engineer and my mom as a business analyst, despite the low probability of leaving the seemingly hopeless Indian economy that dictated the career choices of their generation. Together, my parents beat the odds of a system with thousands of college graduates seeking to abandon grim lives, and thus were presented with the opportunity that India lacked at the time.

Upon arriving to the United States, my parents initially struggled to provide for my family. Although I was too young to remember it, home videos depict the three of us living in a cramped apartment with our bedroom furniture limited to a lamp and a mattress. Still, my parents vowed to keep me happy and bought me all the toys, books, and Disney trips that my elementary school classmates received, even if my family couldn’t necessarily afford these nonessentials. Regardless of our low income, I remained grateful for my parents’ immense sacrifices while growing up, and I watched their unwavering ambition slowly lead them to an unlikely success. My parents received their master’s degrees, bought a house close to my private Catholic high school, and now have the ability to pay full tuition for my undergraduate education. Until my first year at Boston College, I never once compared my wealth and livelihood to those of my peers, because I recognized my blessings and have long felt indebted to my parents for their hard work. What more could I have asked for?

Taking full advantage of my education has always been my priority. When I started my first semester at BC, I was determined to maintain a high GPA throughout college and to devote my efforts entirely to securing a career, which would eventually allow me to repay my parents. I quickly lost focus on campus, however, as I found myself surrounded by an unexpectedly wealthy freshman class. I watched as students slacked off in classes just to go to parties during the week, and wondered how my peers could neglect the immense privilege of a higher education. I witnessed other students constantly going out to dinner instead of using their meal plan money and shopping for brand-name clothing that I had never even heard of. Not only did I feel a diminished sense of belonging, but I was also overwhelmed by the pressure to conform with the carefree behaviors of a “typical BC student,” in spite of my inability to afford any of the luxuries that were simply handed to many of my classmates.

It sounds pitiful in retrospect, but earlier in the year I wasted a significant portion of my time comparing the means of my relatively average family to the impossible standards of the top 1 percent. After visiting my friends’ houses and seeing their parents’ cars, I felt insecure about my own. During the housing process, I heard students threaten to reduce their family’s donations in order to persuade Res Life to give them an 8-man. Although I refuse to buy a fur coat for ethical reasons, I was bewildered by how many students would easily give up $1,000 for a Canada Goose when winter came around. Not surprisingly, students have bragged about their parents’ high-ranked positions as corporate lawyers and hedge fund managers, a power that would presumably expand their networking options at BC.

Moreover, after reading Josh Behren’s op-ed from last month, I can confirm that a tradition of “BC Exceptionalism” plagues this campus and that the administration’s classist admission decisions are unlikely to give way to greater inclusivity in the near future. With nearly one in five students with a family income in the top 1 percent and a median family income of about $200,000, BC lacks the economic diversity that would allow for an open-minded student body with many perspectives. Until BC begins to accept incoming students from different socioeconomic backgrounds, the University will continue to foster the homogenous environment that marginalizes students who fail to fit a stereotype, rather than creating the culture of acceptance that BC desperately needs. Still, despite the flaws of the admissions process, I have recently begun to regain gratitude for my own privileges by recognizing that an inherited safety net will never provide me with a meaningful existence.

There exist a number of students at BC that have experienced this aura of superiority from the perspective of an outsider. After attending retreats like 48 Hours and R.I.D.E., as well as a close-knit discussion group for my sociology class last semester, I realized that many other students feel as though they lack the perceived entitlement and wealthy background needed to belong to the BC student body. Forming relationships with students facing similar pressures has enabled me to be cognizant of the fact that I am already tremendously privileged to have a college education, and that I have no reason to compare myself to others when my success is only limited by my willingness to work towards my degree. Whenever I am distracted by the superficial advantages of upper-class BC students, I return to memories of my parents’ enduring determination and positivity. I know that my greatest satisfaction stems not from the possession of extravagant comforts, but rather from the results of my drive for academic excellence.

Ultimately, none of us should feel alienated at BC because of concerns about socioeconomic inequalities that are irrelevant to our own capabilities. Of course, I urge the BC administration to prioritize the admission of an economically diverse student body. On the other hand, part of developing a personal sense of belonging to our university requires that we throw out any envy for the material wealth of others and instead direct our efforts to invaluable personal and academic growth. Only then may we achieve happiness and become a part of a growing community at BC that looks beyond the surface to value the humanity that connects all students.

Featured Graphic by Nicole Chan / Graphics Editor