In the fourth episode of The Bruno Brief’s series on myths at Brown, Matias Gersberg speaks with fellow Bruno Brief producer Carter Moyer about some of the ways in which class impacts social life, academics and admissions on College Hill.
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So I had never heard of a Canada Goose jacket. I’d never heard of a Moncler jacket. I’d never heard of Golden Goose shoes. I'd never heard of Van Cleef and I’d definitely never ever seen any kind of Cartier in my life.
Especially prevalent at Brown is this idea of like cosplaying poverty. I think like a lot of people at Brown, because their political beliefs are like more leftist, they feel like that doesn't align with their wealth. And so the way that they compromise between those two things is oftentimes by just pretending that they don't have wealth. And I think that that's the wrong solution.
The New York Times reported in 2017 that the median family income of a student at Brown was $204,200 — the highest among all Ivy League institutions. Almost half of the student body fell within the top 5%.
But, Brown’s reputation for being a school for the wealthy goes beyond just these statistics. In 2019, the Providence Journal reported on the infamous “Granoff Dinners” organized by Marty Granoff P’93, a Brown trustee emeritus and donor. The invite-only event and guest-list included “some of Brown’s wealthiest and most well-connected students.”
Four years later, Carter Moyer, a Bruno Brief producer, spoke to students and professors about some of the ways in which class impacts admissions, academics and social life on College Hill.
My name is Matias Gersberg — this is the Bruno Brief.
I honestly like was really not looking at Brown before QuestBridge, and so QuestBridge kind of helped me open my eyes to the idea of coming to Brown. And since then, QuestBridge has given me a very strong community, not only here at Brown, but also at other like peer institutions.
That was TK Monford ’25, he’s a sophomore and a QuestBridge Scholar, a program which seeks to connect low-income and first-generation students with “leading institutions of higher education.” Last year, Monford attended the Third World Transition Program, or TWTP, a pre-orientation program for incoming first-year students that explores forces of systemic oppression and introduces students to available resources and support structures on campus.
TWTP was a big moment for me, at first like a lot of my friends low-income and students of color to get the opportunity to kind of feel like Brown is a place for us and a place that we're welcomed at and wanted at.
I would say overall, Brown has been a pretty welcoming place. But I will say the wealth gap was probably one of the scariest things at the beginning because I realized that there are people here at school whose parents probably make more in a month than my mom would ever make in a year.
I believe that Brown was founded to be a place that was not designed for me. It was designed to cater to wealthy white men, and I think there are definitely remnants of that.
At Brown, Monford studies economics, but he said that he does so for very different reasons than many of his wealthy white classmates.
For me, I'm trying to create generational wealth and change and I'm not trying to perpetuate a system that steps on other people. But I feel like as a low-income student, that that opportunity and that perception of like being the “evil finance bro” just doesn't apply the same way because of my lived experiences and the obstacles I've had to overcome already just to get here that so many other econ majors didn't face.
I also spoke with David Rangel, an assistant professor of education who researches the relationship between education and social inequality with a focus on race and ethnicity. He said being from a low-income background can create added pressures for students to succeed and affect how comfortable they are in the classroom.
Low-income students are less likely to visit office hours and engage faculty.
If you're from a working-class and poor background, you often believe that you got here as a trick, that somehow you're able to fool the admissions officers — not all of them, right? This is not a universal statement. But oftentimes, like if you don't feel like you belong here, then if you struggle in your classes, you're doing poorly, the way you attribute doing poorly is not to the material being difficult, but it reconfirms your belief that you don't belong. So, it impacts your help seeking.
I honestly struggled a lot in my econ classes. I really love the subject. And I really think that's what I want to do. But it has not been easy. I've constantly felt like I'm behind or doing worse in my econ classes than so many of my other counterparts, and I think part of that is just preparation, comfortability in class and just confidence in the ability to just exist in a space where there’s other people that look like you and have similar experiences.
Here’s Léo Corzo-Clark ’25, co-lead of Students for Educational Equity’s admissions and access team, talking about how one’s high school experience can affect how prepared they feel for the academic culture at Brown. According to Corzo-Clark, students that attend “elite prep schools” such as the Wheeler School and Phillips Exeter Academy are more prepared to ask for help at Brown.
These like elite prep schools and boarding schools facilitate the... student learning experience to mirror schools like Brown as much as possible. So, students get here: they know what it's like to ask a professor for a letter of rec. They know what office hours are. They feel entitled to ask for a regrade, which is not something I knew existed at my public school, but everyone seems to know is a thing here.
My freshman year was very kind of disheartened. I felt less than. I felt like my experience at Brown was so out of the ordinary that I didn't want to talk about it. I couldn't talk about where I was at this summer. I can't talk about all the countries I've visited. I couldn't talk about “Oh my god, I know James, like oh my god I know James because we went to school together”’ because no one from my school comes to places like Brown.
Resource Generation at Brown is an organizing group that raises mutual aid ‘redistribution’ funds from wealthier students to give to Brown students in need. They also host workshops to better identify, understand, and utilize privilege to improve their community. Here’s Alec Lacerte ’25, a praxis coordinator for RG, talking about the group’s mission.
Another thing that we try to do RG is like, get people to realize like, no, like, you're like, you actually are like in the top 10%. You know, if you're, like XYZ, and I think that that's, for a lot of people, it's like a shocking conversation to have.
Here’s Simone Klein ’24.5, a Resource Gen coordinator, describing the group a little further.
RG is a cross-class invitation and also the focus of praxis, specifically, is on organizing folks with class privilege.
My ultimate hope is that like, for folks that want to be a part of praxis, and may not be coming from class privilege, that they feel that they can be like heard, and like use that space as a reflection space that is generative.
Lacerte told me he feels that wealthy Brown students often try to hide or downplay their wealth and class privilege.
I think we can also speak more to this sort of this idea of cosplaying poverty at Brown. Just from my own experience, it's very common for people to like, as I said, really not acknowledge their wealth. Everybody thrifts or you know like oh, I can't spend money on dinner tonight.
Lacerte also sees a conflict between the level of wealth at Brown and the University’s liberal political culture, which we discussed last week.
When you look at the numbers it, like, is really shocking. One of the most frustrating things about Brown is that like Brown is so like, progressive really markets itself as this university for the people. And yet, nobody talks about wealth.
Students, including Students for Aid and Minority Admission, have historically advocated for need-blind admissions policies at the University, which we discussed in last week’s episode. Brown was the last Ivy to adopt a need-blind admissions policy, doing so in 2003.
Today, Students for Educational Equity works to center local public school students and community members while promoting educational equity in Providence.
I spoke with SEE about how Brown can expand accessibility to students from less-privileged backgrounds and the ways in which wealth and class privilege can be felt in admissions.
Last year, SEE created an online financial aid guide that explains key terms and processes involved in applying for financial aid, such as how to fill out the CSS Profile and FAFSA or navigate special circumstances like those faced by international and undocumented students. The guide also walks through the financial aid appeals process, which Niyanta Nepal ’25, co-president of SEE and co-lead on SEE’s admissions and access team, said is something many incoming students are not aware of.
Here’s Nepal talking about the beginnings of the project:
It was a lot of us like brainstorming what we would have wanted to see what resources we wanted, would have wanted to have. We looked at a lot of other university like financial aid websites to see what they did well and what we could replicate. And we created it just as a way for students to be able to like access a more friendly, I guess, guide to financial aid.
Nepal said that one of SEE's main goals is pushing Brown’s administration to invest more in the Providence community, particularly in its public school system. As a nonprofit institution, the University does not pay property taxes on its institutional properties, but Brown makes voluntary payments as part of a memorandum of understanding and a memorandum of agreement, both of which are currently being renegotiated.
If Brown paid full taxes on all of the property it owns, the city would have received almost $50 million dollars from the University in 2022. This past fiscal year, Brown paid $4.5 million to the city.
Nepal also noted a 2019 Johns Hopkins report on Providence Public Schools which concluded that the district — where around 87% of students are economically disadvantaged and 90% are students of color — is significantly underfunded, under-resourced and provides an “exceptionally” low level of academic instruction.
Despite existing in the same city as Brown, just under one-third of PPSD students enter four-year higher education institutions directly after graduation.
If you talk to Dean of Admissions about this, or if you talk to other administrators about this, their usual go-to is: “It's too late by the time that we get to these students to let them in.”
When Logan Powell says to me like we can't do intervention this late, I think about how this would be earlier intervention is people like admin advocating for early for Brown to pay their fair share so K–12 education can be better in their hometown, and they can accept more kids from Providence.
We reached out to the admissions office, but they were unable to provide a comment.
On campus, Monford says there are many components of college life that some students might take for granted but present barriers for low-income students, such as paying for laundry or getting a meal on Thayer Street after many of the dining halls on campus have closed. Yet he feels that there are ways in which undocumented, first-generation and low-income students are supported by one another as well as by University programs.
I will also just say shout out to Brown for their UFunds account and profile. I think UFunds has been an amazing resource for low-income students in particular, for me who came from Georgia and did not own any winter clothes or any real like winter jackets or winter boots. I really relied on UFunds in my freshman year to help me to get money to go buy these winter jackets and winter boots. So, UFunds has in particularly been really, really impactful.
I just want all like low-income students that are listening to this to know that their value, their story is important and not to feel silence. Find a space where you feel like you can share that because your story and how you got here is probably more impactful than you'll ever realize.
That’s it for this week’s episode of the Bruno Brief. Tune in next week to hear from Bruno Brief producers Elysee Barakett and Samantha Renzulli about Brown’s reputation as the “Happy Ivy.”
This episode was produced by Liana Haigis, Finn Kirkpatrick, Elysee Barakett, Samantha Renzulli, Daphne Dlunziewski, Sonya McNatt, Olivia Tingley-Kelley, Jacob Smollen, Carter Moyer and me, Matias Gersberg. If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to subscribe to The Bruno Brief and leave a review. Thanks for listening.
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