Last Thursday, I attended a Fireside Chat led by the Dean of Admissions Richard Shaw concerning the “Value of the Socioeconomic Diversity in Higher Education.” For better or for worse, people don’t talk about income at this school. Hardly anyone is overt about the money their parents do or don’t have and this allows students to interact on an even playing field. Money issues don’t matter. But money issues are also subsequently glossed over. I was excited that the dean of admissions was willing to have a discussion about the topic with students. Yet out of the 53 people that claimed they would attend, a little less than 20 actually appeared. This was shocking considering how many people were worried about the investment in higher education sparked by Deresciewicz’s talk. If the people attending top colleges are sheep blindly doing whats expected of them by pursuing higher education, why should alumnus pay money to have more sheep attend the school?
But don’t worry – I don’t think the talk was very focused on the topic anyways. It seemed that the majority of students that submitted questions were from FLIP or were low-income. The first hour was spent reassuring students of low-income that they were meant to be here. I understand the questions – whether you are considered low or high-income sometimes Stanford can be intimidating. There’s always one moment when you pause and ask yourself what your admissions officer was thinking. There was also a debate about the different definitions of low income set by Stanford’s and the US definition that’s causing Stanford’s meaning of economic diversity to be misleading but it was still not pertinent to the topic.
My main issue with the talk was that it didn’t actually refer to the contribution that socioeconomic diversity provides to the campus. There’s the usual matter of accurate representation of the nation in the student body. In some ways it’s also a way to prove that people from all classes can excel at elite institutions. But as one of the many people here with some form of financial aid, I feel like economic diversity contributes more than representation. They do more than make this institution look good on paper. Besides the fact that brilliance comes from all backgrounds, socioeconomic diversity brings in two things Deresciewicz thinks we’re lacking: perspective and empathy.
In connecting with the communities around us and around the world, people who come from different walks of life bring different views on the same issue or possibly first hand experience. Some of the most famous activists have concrete knowledge of their causes. They have first hand knowledge of the social issues they combat. Somaly Mam isn’t just a woman trying to end sex trafficking; she was a former child sex slave herself. Her words are imbued with her background – they have more impact than her reasons alone. Even though I’m once again following my habit of comparing grossly different things, I still believe this reflective of the impact of socioeconomic diversity. Just to use a more practical example, I think you connect to the East Palo Alto students you’re mentoring if you’ve been in their shoes.
Stanford students are generous to a fault. Experience or not, time or not, students are activists for various causes for their own reasons. But with socioeconomic diversity on this campus, I think students go further, in different directions than they would have if the student body was composed of a more homogeneous group. There is value in socioeconomic diversity, even if no one is willing to talk about it.