There exists a wealth disparity on our campus. This disparity impacts 66% of the student body, subjecting them to the harsh side effects of reduced ambition and lack of social understanding. The results are in and the diagnosis is affluenza — a psychological ailment experienced by the wealthy, which includes symptoms such as “guilt, lack of motivation, and social isolation.” Unfortunately, the cure cannot be doled out on a silver spoon.
As a board-certified internist, one may assume that University President Mark Schlissel would be able to treat the internalized classism that plagues our campus, yet even he has his doubts about combating the spread. Such doubt came out in a 2019 interview with Bridge Michigan in which Schlissel stated, “It’s probably impossible to erase the effects of disparities that come from growing up in a household that’s making $25,000 a year as compared to one that’s making half a million dollars a year.”
Despite this supposed improbability, Schlissel’s remedy takes form in the Go Blue Guarantee, granting “free tuition for up to four years for high-achieving, in-state, full-time undergraduate students with family incomes of $65,000 or under and assets below $50,000” for all three University of Michigan campuses. Getting low-income students on campus is the first step to diversify the student body in terms of income, yet acceptance to the University does not guarantee acceptance into campus culture. That is a tough pill to swallow.
Those who deviate from the median family income of $154,000 must often become student employees in order to put food on their own stainless-steel spoons. The Offices of Student Life and Financial Aid department seek to employ more than 4,000 students each year in positions that include work-study roles granted to those in financial need. The payroll and schedules are filled, yet those who put on the logoed uniforms and name badges are not the only ones in need of a job.
Indeed, the benefits gained from working a low-paid job, whether through the University or through an Ann Arbor business, is the prescription those with affluenza need to fill. Character is strengthened when you have a “Karen” encounter at the register. Stamina is increased when your task list is overflowing with duties that soon become second nature. Grit is molded when you are forced to do work with people that test your differences. Perspicacity cannot be bought with a trust fund nor be learned in class.
We are taught about ethics in school, but the difference between learning and working deepens the divide. We cannot help the situation we are born into. The quality of the spoon on which we are fed is not our fault. Yet work ethic is not hand-fed nor pre-determined — hence it should be doled out to everyone in equal portions. Everyone should have work experience in college regardless of socio-economic status.
Many families work hard to provide for their children and set them up financially so they can focus solely on the educational aspects of school. While their intentions are good, they not only subject their child to catch a case of affluenza but also of misdirected focus that shortens one’s resume and ability to gain intrapersonal experience and time management skills that are required after earning a degree. Data shows that students engaged in work-study programs are likely to have higher grade point averages, more job skills on their resume and graduate at a faster rate. The same cannot be said for those who spend most of their spare time in a fraternity house on Hill Street instead of in the stacks like their parents intended.
Regardless of if a person needs to work to eat at the end of the day or works simply to gain responsibility and build their resume, the result of working a part-time or summer job can create a unity in understanding on our campus. Unity would help lessen the disparity and treat the ailment of the affluent.
Setting aside differences in upbringing or who sends in the check to the registrar’s office, we are all Wolverines who are entitled to knowledge. How we treat each other in such pursuit is what makes our four years here enjoyable. Therefore, we could all stand to take on responsibility for more than just ourselves. Whether it’s running the food lines at the dining hall or interning at a local start-up, work is the remedial force that can help target the disparity and change our campus culture.
Again, the cure is not doled out on a silver spoon, as empathy and the betterment of the community cannot be prescribed. It is not a matter of consuming more or less but rather appreciating and being a part of what makes consumption possible.
Julia Maloney is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.