It’s no secret that Boston College has a reputation of being socioeconomically homogeneous. Everything from its location (Chestnut Hill, an affluent suburb where the median home sale price is just over a million dollars) to its student body (notably preppy and frequently adorned in Vineyard Vines) indicates that it’s not a particularly cheap university to attend. With tuition alone exceeding $50,000 per year as of 2017, and room/board/additional fees adding up to a total of approximately $70,000, these assumptions are proved correct. According to the New York Times, the median family income of students attending BC is $194,100, with 70% of students coming from the top 20%, and a staggering 16% from the top one percent.
Even beyond the technical cost of attendance, the price of a social life at BC is alarmingly steep. Between trendy restaurants and frequent concerts in Boston (plus the many Ubers to get there), the preppy brands that serve as our unofficial school uniform, and our infamously competitive levels of alcohol consumption, it’s easy to look around and marvel at the seemingly inexhaustible wallets of our peers.
In addition, there are still other experiences that are seen as quintessential BC—that is, in order to get the true, extracurricular “Boston College experience,” you’re going to have to break the bank even further. Student staples such as the Gold Pass for athletic events, incredibly overpriced logo-emblazoned merchandise, and summer classes in exotic locations don’t come cheap, but it’s more or less assumed that everyone can afford to partake with no problem.
Sure, everyone groans about the price of textbooks—and don’t forget the “I’m so poor” jokes from upper-middle-class students whose parents have finally cracked down on their leisure spending—but how many students at BC have first-hand experience managing a budget out of legitimate concern that they won’t be able to afford the absolute necessities, or pour all their free time into work to finance their own education and alleviate the burden borne by their families at home? Those of us who have experienced financial insecurity are few and far between, but we’re here, and our desire for a quality education has brought us to a wealth-saturated environment that can feel incredibly alienating.
However, beneath the North Face jackets and L.L. Bean boots, many Boston College students embody another distinguishing characteristic: their commitment to service. As a Jesuit institution, BC places a great emphasis on serving and achieving solidarity with marginalized communities; through many opportunities for service-immersion trips and local service placements, being involved in volunteer work to some extent is more or less the norm. But this culture of solidarity (often criticized as “voluntourism”), while succeeding at bringing about some level of self-awareness in regards to economic privilege, often doesn't directly impact the behavior of students in relation to their peers upon returning to the BC community. For many, the “awareness” of financial insecurity is often restricted to dilapidated towns in rural Virginia, or the homeless population of Los Angeles, or even distant villages in Latin America; the fast-paced, heavy-spending environment of Boston living doesn’t even seem comparable to the conspicuous ventures into the impoverished world that so many high-income students undertake. It often doesn’t seem to occur to many in the upper class that not everyone in their immediate vicinity occupies the same income bracket.
It's not easy to feel like you're thriving at BC when you don’t have the financial means to keep up with your peers within such a consumption-based culture. There’s a significant lack of awareness among the most financially privileged students that not everyone around them has the budget for the revelry that’s been made to feel so essential to having any semblance of a social life, or that some may even be struggling with affording necessary items such as new clothing and textbooks. While resources are available for financially disadvantaged students, many of the higher-income individuals have become so comfortable being surrounded by others of similar economic privilege that they often overlook the possibility of others having different financial struggles. Hopefully BC’s motto of “men and women for others” will encourage greater solidarity amongst students of disparate economic backgrounds on our own campus.