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 email@example.com. Please send responses to this opinion to firstname.lastname@example.org and op-eds to email@example.com.