UMass Commonwealth Honors College housing promotes classism

By Ian Hagerty

James Jesson/Daily Collegian
James Jesson/Daily Collegian

The other day I visited the Roots Café located within the UMass Commonwealth Honors College housing area to grab a tea. Just like revolutionaries at the start of this nation, this tea incited thoughts on the subject of discrimination. I’d been there before, but today I paid closer attention and I’m glad I did.

The tea served there was loose-leaf style, very tasty and 50 cents more expensive than other teas I had grabbed at the Procrastination Station and other coffee shop style cafés on campus. On top of that, this café had several exotic sounding sugar styles, such as raw turbinado sugar, served with a spoon, not a packet – nothing too fancy, just more expansive than the options at the other eateries I had mentioned. To top it off, the food options at Roots simply looked more appetizing than other options I usually see on campus.

Delving into the subject a bit more, I looked up the price difference of the Commonwealth Honors College Residential Community dorms (CHCRC) compared to some other more common dorms on campus on the Residential Life website. The prices of the CHCRC dorms ranged from $3,107 to $5,195. Sylvan Residential Area ranged from $2,552 to $3,708. Even the cheapest dorms in the CHCRC are $555 more than the cheapest in Sylvan. This is not to say that the dorms in the CHCRC aren’t nicer, and therefore value more in rent, but is this really the image the school wants when tempting students with such an illustrious award for their high GPA? I don’t think so, and this is why.

Let’s consider for a moment, the role of class and societal privilege in educational opportunities. It isn’t hard to imagine that as a student, if you were to lose some of your privilege now or when you were growing up, it might have been difficult to fully apply yourself to your education. Without wealthy parents, you would have to work more. Without more freedom in your life to pursue your dreams, it is easy to fall below the bar, especially with the high expectations of schools today.

In an article published in Science Daily, researchers measured the relationship between family wealth and child educational development, found that there was a positive impact on the education of school age children in wealthy families due to ability to pay for educational resources that require “substantial financial investment.”

If children from wealthier families have a likelihood of producing more apt students, then what are we saying to the scholars of less fiscally sound families? Are we telling them that even though they overcame obvious adversity and earned their grades, that now they cannot even afford the prestige of living with the honorable?

It’s like we are forcing them to stay within their own class, indefinitely. There should be a comparable price option for an honors area dorm.

Think about the University of Massachusetts as if it were its own little city area. I’m from Connecticut, so the New Haven area comes to mind. There are some neighborhoods with higher property value and less crime and you wouldn’t be hard pressed to find a few Starbucks within them, lavish with drinks that seem to have no price limit, especially around Yale. Then you travel a bit across town and come to a lower socio-economic center. You’d most likely have difficulty finding a coffee shop at all, but eventually you may find a Dunkin Donuts. These businesses aren’t placed randomly. They are placed strategically to match the demographic of buyers. People often cross lines to buy drinks, but the majority will consume what is served. I buy my tea in the CHCRC and I don’t live there. But how and why should our school ever represent the varying class structure system of life that the outside world does?

We all pay our tuition and we all deserve a campus that serves the community equally. The school wouldn’t necessarily need to change the CHCRC or its café in any way to serve its students properly. They could lower the cost of housing to match dorms that aren’t in the CHCRC. That way, living in the honors college would be an actual reward for good grades, avoiding a circumstantial divide. On a smaller level, the cafés around campus could serve the same food options. These are just a couple ways that equality can be attained at UMass.

Ian Hagerty is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]