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Op-eds, Opinions

Torres ’22: There is no justification for perpetuations of inequality and elitism

By
Op-Ed Contributor
Friday, March 1, 2019

On Feb. 24, an article titled “VIP dinners offer peek at culture of privilege at Brown University” was published by the Providence Journal, detailing an exclusive and previously obscure tradition called the “Marty Granoff Dinner.” This sparked a general debate and an outpour of disbelief among the undocumented, first-generation and/or low-income community. According to the article, Granoff holds these dinners for the children of “U.S. politicians, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, business executives, financial moguls and otherwise wealthy individuals.” The supposed purpose of these dinners is “so people who would not usually get to know each other, do.”

It is hard to believe that affluent people would not meet other affluent people in the course of their days at an Ivy League institution where 70 percent of students come from the top 20 percent, and  19 percent of the students come from the top 1 percent. No, dinners and events such as this one only alienate and segregate Brown’s most marginalized group: its undocumented, first generation and/or low income students.

About the dinners and the Providence Journal article, my friend Hannah Ponce ‘22 tweeted, “I work 18+ hour weeks on top of my school work, extracurriculars and trying to find summer internships that aren’t made readily available for people like me. This article was a slap in the face.”

In addition, my friend pointed out the stark reality in which U-FLi students must “work twice as hard to come by the resources already available to wealthier students, and yet, the university continues to cater to and benefit those who are lucky enough to have been born with accessibility to certain social/economic/political connections.” Many others in the U-FLi community, including myself, felt similarly. These dinners are only a fraction of the elitist culture I have experienced at Brown, a culture which divides students along socioeconomic lines, alienates U-FLi students and confers even more advantages upon students that already benefit from the advantages of generational wealth, high family incomes and well-connectedness.

Yes, Brown publicizes several efforts toward diversity and inclusion meant to “break down barriers for students from low-and middle-income families,” as President Christina Paxson P’19 stated in her response to the article in a letter to the editor in the Providence Journal, but that does not mean elitism and inequality do not exist here anymore.

As an Ivy League institution, Brown is still part of this country’s institutionalized system of oppression, which sustains socioeconomic inequality by replicating elitism and protecting the upper classes. For all of Brown’s publicized efforts toward diversity and inclusion, only 11 percent of students enrolled in the Class of 2022 are first-generation college students. Furthermore, the number of first-year undergraduate first-generation students has decreased from 17 percent in 2013 to 11 percent in 2018. As a low-income, first-generation college student and daughter of immigrants, I am an outlier at Brown.

Every day, U-FLi students struggle to navigate an elitist and completely foreign space that was not originally created for us. We face issues such as impostor syndrome, feelings of invisibility and microaggressions from fellow students. For example, one of my friends was deeply hurt while overhearing a conversation in which a student described U-FLi students as not deserving “handouts.” Wealthier students frequently do not realize that their peers may not share the same backgrounds. Another friend was told to treat herself rather than send money back home, because providing for her family is her “parents’ job.” Aside from experiencing a sense of alienation from our peers, many of us also lack prior experience with networking, as we are the first in our families to attend college and have no one to turn to for college and career advice. My friend Alexis Cruz ‘22 recently shared an experience with me in which she visited the CareerLab to ask about internships, and a staff member told her to start off by asking her parents and family friends. “There’s just an assumption that I have that professional network of family members that I can just tap into any time,” she said.

To wealthy students and invitees to Marty Granoff’s dinner: I am not demonizing you for being rich. I know you are not in control of whether you and your family are wealthy. But I know you can control whether you attend events that marginalize U-FLi students. You can control whether you are actively working to dismantle elitist systems and support your U-FLi peers.

To people in positions of power like Marty Granoff: I want you to think about the consequences of your actions. I want you to think about exactly which groups your apparent good deeds benefit and which groups they hurt. Ending the dinners certainly would not magically end institutionalized socioeconomic inequality at Brown, but it would definitely be a step toward dismantling the culture of elitism and alienation I have experienced at Brown. There is no good reason for these dinners or similar elitist practices to remain.

As for the argument that practices like this help fund my education: events like the Granoff dinner should not be necessary for me to be here. Accepting this trade-off as the status quo tokenizes U-FLi students and creates the sense that Brown’s efforts to improve diversity and inclusion are performative.

There is much more to be done to make Brown a truly inclusive and diverse place. Rather than spending about $18,000 a year — an amount that equates to the yearly parental income of some U-FLi students — on these elitist dinners, Marty Granoff should repurpose his funds toward initiatives that empower U-FLi students and put us on more level ground with our affluent peers. For example, funds could be put toward a building for the U-FLi Center to provide a better space for U-FLi students to get support.

Further, students and faculty should stop imagining the “default” student as wealthy and privileged; U-FLi students exist. Networking initiatives should be inclusive of U-FLi students, since, unlike some others at Brown, internship and career opportunities are not accessible to us via our family connections. In addition, admission into Brown should still be more accessible for U-FLi students.

And to U-FLi students: you should not have to put up with alienation on campus. We belong here, and Brown needs to take diversity and inclusion more seriously. Without us, the student body would be very homogeneous. We may not have the same networks or resources as our affluent peers, but we have each other, and we enrich the school through our unique strengths, backgrounds and experiences. Our community is exceptionally vibrant, supportive and tight-knit. Each one of us brings a unique perspective. From witnessing the extreme sacrifices performed by our families, to fighting hard our entire lives against a system set against us, we are not lucky to be here — Brown is lucky to have us. It should act like it.

Sibeles Torres ’22 can be reached at sibeles_torres@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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  1. CitizenWhy says:

    No fan of unjust inequality here, but I presume that Granoff was cultivating future (or current) major donors, in support of the arts. That complicates the idea that tit was the elite advancing the elite. If the purpose was giving, and giving big, then the moral issue is not so clear.

  2. Privilege is not a dirty word says:

    re: “Marty Granoff should repurpose his funds toward initiatives that empower U-FLi students”

    Telling a fellow citizen what he should do with his own money is not appropriate. Furthermore, suggesting he should give the money to YOU or programs that benefit YOU is shameless greed. Check yourself.

    • I really think you missed the whole point of the article, which is that U-FLi students constantly have to face the burden of their intersectionality at institutions that were founded on elitism. There is nothing wrong with suggesting that money should go to empower a community that has to constantly worry about finances and is confronted with doubts about their capabilities (imposter syndrome). As a first-generation student myself, I depend on scholarships and resources to navigate through a system that was not meant to help me. If it wasn’t for U-FLi students speaking out on the lack of resources we would have those programs that benefit us. Lastly, there is nothing wrong with coming from a place of privilege, which is something she addressed in her article, however, what is wrong is demonizing minorities by calling them “greedy” when all we want is support and a place at the table where our concerns can be taken into consideration.

      • Privilege is not a dirty word says:

        No one here is, in your words, “demonizing minorities.” I am calling out the author for submitting a flawed argument.

        When someone funds a program that benefits historically underrepresented or first-generation or low income students, they do it voluntarily. I agree, there is nothing wrong with supporting such programs. And there is no shame in earning scholarships and awards available through those programs — to the contrary it’s an honorable achievement.

        Calling out the rich, however, trying to shame them into sharing their wealth, is an unsustainable strategy. It’s an ugly place these demands come. It’s envy. If you look at the wealthy and think you deserve to take what they own, you feed that weakness.

        “A place at the table” is not a just figure of speech in this case, so I’ll take your meaning there literally. You don’t invite yourself to someone else’s dinner. Please have some respect.

        • woketakes says:

          U-FLi students being envious of the rich, is just a regressive assumption from your part, I think it is safe to say that we can make it on our own means. For the most part, it has to do with the fact that we have to work twice as much as someone that already knows how to navigate the whole college process and although that is the way things are and we have to accept that fact, all we ask is for compassion and for people to understand where we are coming from. Some of us didn’t go to private schools or have a legacy, but that is alright, we will power through it. Also, I did mean “a place at the table” as a figure of speech, I don’t even attend Brown University, and from an outside perspective I can see how this is problematic because it encourages exclusivity and elitism in a place that is supposed to be “supportive” of minority groups. The fact that this event is so publicized is a slap on the face to minorities everywhere because it makes us feel like we could never belong to a top-tier institution.

          • How do the students whose families are struggling and pay full tuition feel when first gen and low income students who are already getting a free ride keep complaining and want more and more. They are excluded from all these events.

          • Marie-Anne Barron says:

            Honey, that “free ride” we get is because our parents would not be able to afford our education otherwise, and Brown recognizes that. It is not wrong of us to demand equality from an institution that prides itself so much on its diversity and support for UFLi students. We want to have equal opportunities on this campus and not be discriminated against due to our socioeconomic status, and if you think that’s “complaining and [wanting] more and more”, then I think you need to reassess. (By the way, if your family is struggling, have you tried reaching out to Brown’s administration? You can always request a meeting with someone in the financial aid office if you’re experiencing difficult circumstances.)

          • The institution not only treats everyone fairly, it treats everyone more than fairly by giving some students and not others a free quarter million dollars in education. You are on equal footing by just being at Brown. What else do you feel equally entitled too? A big house, a Porsche? A job in Wall Street? Invitations to every party?

          • Marie-Anne Barron says:

            I am entitled to* inclusivity and equity on this campus. The fact of the matter is that some of us have less resources than others, and in order to succeed and receive the same opportunities post-Brown, we need more help than those who already have more than us and thus have a leg up. It says a lot that you refuse to acknowledge the effects of being UFLi on a wealthy campus, and I’ll choose to believe it’s simply because you have never had our kinds of struggles and thus can’t imagine them as opposed to you being purposefully and intentionally dense. We are equally capable as other students on this campus, and want opportunities to prove it and earn what we deserve to provide for ourselves and our families, not your materialistic status symbols. If we had the same kinds of opportunities as y’all, we could buy our own Porsches (though I’m more of a Toyota girl myself, but to each their own).

          • TheRationale says:

            Marie-Anne Barron – You’re entitled to be treated with respect as a person. You’re not entitled to other people’s money. Whether it’s a pair of socks for Christmas or tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition, it’s a gift for which most people are and should be extremely grateful.

        • Brown calls me multiple times a year and asks me to give them money and despite knowing that every year my donations are earmarked for the same things, Brown always is asking me to give money to fund things I have no interest in donating to. Don’t really see an issue with the author suggesting Granoff use his money differently. Doesn’t mean Granoff should or would do anything differently, but there’s nothing wrong/unreasonable with the author’s suggestion. While I personally am not bothered by the Granoff dinners (mainly because such things are inevitable), I do agree that it was in poor taste for the university to facilitate planning them, or, if they are going to do that, it is absurd to argue that it was not a university sanctioned event and that any anger at the university is misguided. They made their bed, and now they need to lay in it.

  3. Brown has many many dinners and events for various types of students. No one receives more resources than first gen and low income students. It is alums like Marty Granoff that donate beautiful facilities that all students can enjoy and is what makes Brown tick. To say that only certain incomes of students are allowed to meet and socialize, and every donation must be for them is beyond reprehension. It is these alums and future donors that make Brown one of the best schools in the nation, and now one of only fourteen schools with no loan financial aid

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  4. TheRationale says:

    Let me find the world’s smallest violin to play for you. You poor, alienated Ivy League student who was not invited to a private party for a donor and his friends. Dickens and Dostoyevsky could never have dreamt up the pain you suffer in their wildest dreams. Yes, you of all people have the right to bemoan elitism while you yourself attend an uber-elite school.

    Brown and its donors should be grateful they can spend a quarter million dollars on tuition for students whose only response is to bite the hands that feeds them for not giving them more. I can only imagine the draperies are also the wrong color, and it’s Brown’s fault for not asking you your preference before you moved in.

  5. Marie-Anne Barron says:

    This was beautifully written. Thank you for articulating what so many of us have been feeling.

  6. I had to stop reading when I came across this sentence: “…Brown is still part of this country’s institutionalized system of oppression…” So why, then, do you attend this evil institution? I’m guessing it’s because you want to move from being oppressed to being an oppressor. Otherwise, you could go to a state school that is not oppressing anyone.

  7. For anyone interested, the U-Fli Center’s website openly claims as its mission to ‘provide students with the following navigational tools to thrive at Brown: 1) self-reliance, 2) reflexivity, 3) resistance, and 4) collectivism.’

    I feel sorry for the author. She and other students who participate in TWTP and make use of the U-Fli Center are being manipulated from their first days at Brown through to graduation by Marxist ideologues. Brown has created a pervasive, co-curricular, administrative apparatus that force-feeds the most vulnerable students at Brown an intellectually bogus framework that has been discredited by all but the least respected academic disciplines.

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