Ramen noodles are as much a staple of college life as frat parties and skipping class. And just like those two, we seem to subject ourselves to the 50-cent meal for our own masochistic pleasure.
College is notorious as a time of cheap-living and limited resources, but how much of this lifestyle is just that — a style, a willful manner of doing something? Popularized by TV shows like HBO’s “Girls” and the overdone stereotype of the hipster, pseudo-poverty has become an embraced way of life. Buying all your furniture from the Goodwill is cool, and there’s no better place to set down your lukewarm PBR than on a $10 coffee table.
For those of us coming from well-to-do backgrounds, this mode of living on as little as possible seems more like a game than a necessity. This isn’t to say the need for budgeting in college isn’t real. With time focused on studying instead of working and increasing self-reliance, college students are cash-strapped. But somehow our budgets include iPhones and frequent nights out to the bars and clubs.
College students from supportive backgrounds inhabit a weird limbo between being resourceless and utterly surrounded by resources. At moments, it may seem like we have nothing, but in actuality many of us have the luxury of safety nets holding us up. The feeling of being impoverished derives more from realizing personal responsibility for perhaps the first time, and understandably struggling with it, than from any form of actual poverty.
Luckily for many of us at the UW, our backgrounds and positions as students allow us a lot of leeway as we work toward self-sufficiency. Though sometimes it feels like we’re floundering, most of us have a support system to help keep us afloat. The very act of being a student at the UW is a mark of privilege we often forget.
Step outside the luscious Alder Hall, or even talk to your fellow classmates more, and you’ll likely find those who experience poverty without the perks. Acting as if we’re poor belittles positions of deeper struggle, as our “tough choices” are nowhere near the ones faced by those in actual need.
Being able to spend your last $20 on the shirt you just had to have isn’t the same as not knowing where your next meal is coming from. We’re desensitized to what it actually means to struggle if we think this is it.
This pseudo-poverty is not inherently problematic; maybe your Sasquatch experience is more important to you than a well-rounded diet. The problem arises when we pretend this choice does not exist and inevitably trivialize the experience of those in poverty who actually do struggle to put food on their tables. Our behaviors are insensitive and ignorant to the real struggles faced by many without the fortune of safety nets.
Maybe we have to scour the web for the cheapest textbooks, but we should acknowledge that those books are for courses at a top-of-the-line university. Maybe our apartments are barely livable, but they are a shelter from the rain.
Those of us surrounded by resources need to recognize them instead of playing off the stereotype of the poor college student. It’s cliche to say, but we need to appreciate what we have, and stop acting as if we have nothing.
Reach opinion writer Kali Swenson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @kaliswens
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