I remember hearing wonderful things when I was an underclassman about Senior Week, the week of activities that takes place between final exams and graduation. From the Unit Wars to the mixers and dances, everything sounded like a fun way for seniors to kick off their final days at Brown, and for years, I looked forward to attending a Senior Week of my own. But what I wasn’t told was how expensive Senior Week is.
A few days ago, I received an email from the Class Coordinating Board listing the prices of the “Senior Week packages,” which are $210 per person for the regular packages and $160 for those who are under 21. The financial aid packages, by comparison, cost half the standard price. However, even $105 is a lot for someone to spend on graduation festivities, and I began to wonder what a student should do if they’re not able to afford any of the packages.
According to the CCB website, there are nine free events, including the “Brown’s Finest” talent show, Unit Wars and Pizza Lunch, the Andrew Evans Magic Show and the Ice Cream Social, to name a few. There are also a variety of events you can choose to individually purchase without buying the whole package. However, many of these events seem overpriced with respect to the activity. For example, Class Day, which involves a barbecue and Dave Binder concert, costs $30 to attend and “Last Meal at the Ratty,” which entails a combination of Ratty dishes, beer options and a DJ, costs $40. Even with the beer and the DJ, anyone who’s eaten at the Ratty knows that its food is not worth anything near $40.
There are also three “classy” events for package holders only: a wine and cheese mixer, a craft beer tasting and a casino night at Mohegan Sun. These events are only for the people who purchased packages, and there is no option for someone to pay for these individual events if they really wanted to go. This is problematic and elitist — it penalizes the non-package holders for not paying the whole price and fosters an exclusive atmosphere surrounding these events.
These pricing choices are questionable on many levels and seem to go against Brown’s own stated goal of giving students equal opportunities. There is a time and place to charge students for activities, such as Gala and formals, which are not something every single student has the desire to go to. But graduation is a universal experience for all students, and they shouldn’t be denied access to the activities because of their financial background. When Senior Week activities are prohibitively priced, seniors will find other activities outside of the planned events, which further divides the class. During a time when we should be celebrating our collective accomplishment, it is ironic and painful to see our class split along financial lines.
On top of these Senior Week activities, graduation is already an expensive time for most Brown students and their families. Between cap and gown prices, senior photos, elevated hotel costs, heightened restaurant prices and travel expenses, the whole experience of graduating can cause financial strain for many. Furthermore, graduation is especially concerning for those who don’t have lucrative jobs lined up or who are faced with mountains of student loans. Brown is only adding fuel to the fire with these Senior Week packages, forcing students to make decisions based on financial practicality instead of desire.
All of this begs the question: Does Brown really want us to remember our last week here as a stressful financial balancing act? Graduation is supposed to be a time to celebrate your achievements and hang out with your peers for the last time — not a time to worry about whether or not you can afford to attend the same events as your friends.
To combat these issues, Brown should take steps toward making the Senior Week festivities more affordable. There are already many free events available, but for the pricier events, perhaps Brown can work toward reducing prices through fundraising or by soliciting volunteer workers. Freshman Orientation, for example, is run entirely by student volunteers, which significantly reduces labor costs. For some of the activities of Senior Week that are for students over 21, student volunteers would not be ideal, but it would be worth extending volunteer opportunities to faculty, staff and alumni who are willing to help out.
Another idea is to make the three package-holder-only events open to non-package-holders as well. Obviously, students may not want to go to all of these events, but they should at least have the option to go to the ones they want to regardless of whether they can afford the full package. Brown should also consider getting rid of some of the pricier events altogether to help create more equitable opportunities. After all, students can go off and pursue these more expensive activities on their own without the University’s implicit endorsement of class divisions.
At the end of the day, graduation is an experience Brown students will remember for the rest of their lives, so Brown should reconsider the opportunities they are providing and what kind of environment these exclusive events create. Perhaps instead of focusing on fancy, exclusive events, the University can focus on creating what really matters: an enjoyable final week well-spent with peers.
Samantha Savello ’18 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.