Dear Lawrenceville, Alondra is Not Alone

Opinions  /  by Natalia Ibarra '20  /  January 12, 2018

Katie Davis '18 / The Lawrence

While sitting in class one day, the word “middle-class” caught my attention: I knew where the conversation was headed. The teacher began to discuss what constitutes a middle-class income, and as she spoke, I resisted the urge to shrink in my seat. This was not the first time I’d heard teachers talk about this topic, saying that $40,000 to $50,000 was a decent amount to live on for the average family of four. But I knew better. I had seen it in my own community. But how was I, a 16 year-old, going to correct a teacher?

Alondra Moreno’s powerful article made me reconsider how we talk about class at Lawrenceville. I’ve always liked to believe that Lawrenceville welcomes all socioeconomic backgrounds, but that’s a beautiful, comforting lie. Reflecting on my own experience as a scholarship student, I realized that the average Lawrentian doesn’t understand the experiences of students who have been awarded financial aid.

More often than not, when I tell someone I’m on financial aid, they seize up and go quiet. It’s that quiet that immediately makes me regret bringing it up. But it hadn’t been until I arrived at Lawrenceville that I’d begun to feel ashamed and embarrassed to talk about my financial situation because some students and faculty don’t realize that it’s not an embarrassment to be on financial aid. We have all been dealt a different socioeconomic card, and just because yours is different from mine does not mean I’m not okay with that distinction. In fact, being economically challenged has given me a lot of opportunities!

I am neither scared of nor embarrassed about my family’s economic situation. For most of my childhood, I never realized I was economically challenged because I lived in a community where everyone had his or her own financial struggles. As I got older, my mom started asking me for help with filling out financial aid applications, though she was scared that informing me of my socioeconomic status would negatively impact my self-perception, or that I would let it define who I am and let financial excuses limit what I thought I could achieve. She made it clear that I was never to be ashamed of my situation because financial aid is just that—aid. It means that a family can’t afford something for its child on its own—that’s all. Class has to be openly discussed, and Lawrenceville needs to build an environment where people can better understand the challenges and experiences of scholarship students.

This open discussion won’t happen overnight; many awkward moments and tough conservations about class will have to take place before we make any progress. I call on non-scholarship Lawrentians and teachers to stop avoiding conversations about socioeconomic status and listen, question, and learn from their peers from different financial backgrounds instead. I also urge financial aid recipients like me to raise their voices and actively participate in those discussions because we have first-hand experience of what it's like to be of a different socioeconomic background, enabling us to inform the Lawrenceville community of our experiences and struggles. It’s time for people to know that we exist. An open discussion of class will not only educate the average Lawrentian, but it will also foster a more understanding community. Instead of living in a comforting lie, open dialogue about wealth and class will reveal that beautiful reality of difference, coexistence, and authenticity at Lawrenceville.