Last updated on March 23, 2022
Sophomore Justin C. fidgeted in his chair as he averted his gaze towards the plaid library carpet. Reflecting on a time when a classmate had made an insensitive comment in front of his entire class regarding his financial aid status had dramatically reddened his face. Awkward conversations around financial aid have been routine for him, although he stated, “I wasn’t embarrassed. There’s no embarrassment in the fact that I receive financial aid. My parents have worked so hard for me to be here.” Justin’s comments particularly resonated with me. Given my own financial aid recipient status, I was initially hesitant to publish my experiences out of respect for my parents and how much they have sacrificed to afford me and my siblings’ the educational opportunities that we have. Each interviewee for this article echoed similar feelings of pride towards their parents’ dedication to providing a better future for their children. Unfortunately, reflections on moments of ignorance from other members of our community surrounding class and financial aid status were equally as common. Our community has ignored the voices of the financial aid-receiving community for far too long, resulting in problems with insensitivity that need to be addressed.
Before delving into some of the more pervasive issues within the financial aid-receiving community, my interviewees and I wanted to acknowledge how positive of an impact the financial aid system has had on our time at Northwest. The financial aid program, led by Financial Aid Director Jonathan H., is currently funding 103 students and their families with 100% of their determined financial needs. Alongside the aid of tuition, all additional fees and materials are fully funded by Northwest for students receiving any level of financial aid. Noah T. ‘22 stated, “Jonathan has been so helpful to my family over the past 7 years. His assistance has provided me and my siblings with everything ranging from humanities books to basketball shoes. It’s truly been priceless.”
Firstly, a glaring and persistent issue that Justin wanted to address was how race has been implicated in assumptions about him and other minority students being financial aid recipients. He recalled numerous times when his peers had nonchalantly assumed his financial aid status based on his racial identity. “It just has to stop,” he asserted. “As a person of color, regardless of whether I actually receive financial aid, that assumption is straight-up disrespectful.”
Jose L. 23’ provided insight into moments of discomfort that he had experienced due to his socioeconomic status in a school predicated on immense wealth. “There is a certain amount of entitlement that stems from the private school structure in general, and Northwest is no exception,” Jose said. “It often makes me feel like I don’t belong.” Jose highlighted this year’s Fashion Friday as an example of how financial aid-receiving students have been unintentionally marginalized by the NWS community. “It was definitely insensitive. There’s just such an access barrier for kids on financial aid when it comes to clothing…and then to center a day around showing off your nicest outfit. These are the things that people outside of the financial aid community just don’t think about.”
He noted the convenient nature of ignorance that allows this insensitivity to flourish in our community. For people not immersed in the challenges of navigating daily life from an underprivileged socioeconomic background, or even those not typically engaged in any conversations around socioeconomic status, it is perfectly understandable why there are low levels of awareness on issues within the financial aid-receiving community. However, I implore non-aid-receiving students to rethink the way that they discuss financial aid and class in general. Increasing sensitivity with dialogue around financial aid would dramatically reduce unnecessary discomfort for financial aid recipients and foster a sense of belonging for all students at Northwest.
I didn’t experience this sense of belonging when I arrived at Northwest. I completely self-isolated socially because I felt embarrassed about my social class. I was intimidated by the wealth and class of many of my peers and felt that I didn’t belong. It is hard for me to reflect on this period in my life, but through sharing my experience I’ve learned that a lot of other people in the financial aid community have dealt with similar feelings. Noah T. commented, “I was embarrassed to hang out with friends that were richer than me, so I just didn’t for the majority of my first few years at Northwest.”
When Noah was asked how his perspective had changed with time, he responded, “I feel completely different now. I now know that there are other people in this community that share a lot of my same experiences. It can feel really lonely, but 22% of our student body is on financial aid. Trust me, you’re not alone.” I am hopeful that a new development within the financial aid community will allow Noah’s optimistic outlook to become a reality for every financial aid-receiving student. Recently, a collection of financial aid-receiving students has begun to assemble a new affinity group dedicated to creating a space to advocate for issues within the community, as well as a common space for sharing perspectives with people of similar socioeconomic backgrounds. I encourage all financial aid-receiving students to fill out the survey in Ariaza S. ‘23’s email and consider attending in some capacity when the group is finalized. I wish that a space like this was available when I was younger, as I strongly believe that my feelings of isolation would have been greatly reduced if I had been able to see that there were people with similar backgrounds and financial situations to me at Northwest. I’m excited that a new generation of financial aid students will have access to a space.
When I asked Justin what he wished the Northwest school community understood about him as a financial aid recipient, he hesitated for a moment before smiling. “I’m your equal,” he stated. “Well, maybe not moneywise.” He laughed and flashed a wide grin.
When Jose was posed with the same question, he responded nearly verbatim, with the same brief hesitation before confidently asserting, “I’m no different than you. I’m your equal, so treat me like it.”