Public schools are funded through federal, state, and local dollars. Free education is an expensive public service, but it’s significant in shaping the future of America. The value of education easily outweighs its expense. However, despite the benefits of having a well-structured education system, the United States chooses to spend eight times more on defense and military.
Am I mad about this today? No. This is what I’m mad about today: going through the educational system with an awareness of how much everything costs is a struggle reserved for students of color and other minorities.
Growing up in America as a first generation immigrant, I remember being particularly financially conscious. As a six-year-old, I remember how crucial the additional expense of marble notebooks and number two pencils were, especially in a family with four kids and one working parent at minimum wage. I never asked for the glittered notebooks, SMEAD folders, or North Face book bags, no matter how badly I might have wanted them.
As I grew older, this financial consciousness developed into a dominant personality trait. I trained myself to always stay within limitations. I strive to be as self-sufficient as possible because I have a deep fear of being financially dependent. This can lead to excessive independence. I put more on my plate then I can handle. I tend to take a lot more financial responsibility for my siblings than I should because I don’t want them to limit their dreams or ambitions. When I began applying for colleges, I didn’t even bother to read SUNY brochures. Even with financial aid and scholarships, State Universities can be burdensome. My older sister got a full ride for Stony Brook, but the additional cost of textbooks and dorms weighed on my father’s shoulders. So when my time came, I aimed for public universities within New York City to avoid paying out-of-state tuition. My educational opportunities and decisions have been heavily dictated by my financial constraints.
When I did gain access to certain spaces or leadership positions, I felt like an imposter. When I got an internship at Johnson and Johnson, I wasn’t sure if it was because I earned it, or because they wanted to diversify their workforce. I went through the whole internship doubting whether I was really worthy or whether I just tricked everyone into thinking I was an intellectual. The fact that I was the only hijabi in a room of full of 200 students only amplified my insecurity about not belonging the way other students did. This led me to overwork and make useless attempts to overachieve to prove myself to people who already believed in me. I was the one who struggled to believe in myself.
Students of color or minority students face a common phenomenon: imposter syndrome. Impostor syndrome is the condition of feeling like a fraud because of an inability to internalize success and feeling incompetent. The phenomenon was first observed in a 1978 study of highly accomplished women who felt like “frauds” in the workplace despite their accomplishments. Recently, the same study conducted by the University of Texas evaluated 320 undergrad minority students from southwestern universities which included African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latino- Americans. Results demonstrated that students’ awareness of racial prejudices induced imposter syndrome and made them feel anxious and depressed about it even when they had impressive accomplishments.
Johannes Siegrist, senior professor of work stress research at the University of Dusseldorf, coined a term to study the health effects of unfair compensation: “effort/reward imbalance” (ERI). “There are two versions,” he says. “You can either do too little and receive too much or do too much and receive too little.” Unfortunately for many of us, the second condition is what dictates our lifestyles.
Currently, Hollywood stars are under investigation for what is known to be the biggest college scandal to ever take place. Federal prosecutors accused top CEOs, two Hollywood actresses and a legendary fashion designer of taking part in an audacious scheme to get their children into elite universities through fraud, bribes and lies. The scandal has caused outrage nationwide, and many individuals who have participated in this fraud are guilty of paying top dollar to get their children into prestigious and elite universities. LA Elite’s ability to buy their kids an unearned future is a perfect example of the first condition, where one receives too much for having done little. I am livid at the fact that the wealthy have already constructed a social and economic system that they directly benefit from, and still feel the need to exploit it further; why cheat in a game that’s already rigged in your favor? Upper-class kids have access to the best tutors, the best SAT test prep, and several other material advantages. They don’t hesitate to apply for unpaid internships. The concept of “work-study” is unnecessary for them, so they are able to fill their résumé with extracurricular activities. SAT Prep courses are expensive. Many of us in high school held part-time jobs which affected our ability to prioritize school. Otherwise, our parents worked around the clock at low paying jobs so we had to serve as co-parents to our siblings. A lot of us didn’t live in wealthy neighborhoods either, so resources and opportunities at school were limited.
I believe education is key to a better future. I believe that every individual despite class, race or gender should have equal opportunity to achieve that future. I want more exposure on these issues so we as a society can prevent the upper class from mistreating the education system. I understand that some students will always come in with greater advantages than others. If life were a game of Mario Kart Wii, each player would get to first place through boosters. But in Mario Kart Wii, everyone has a fair chance to obtain those boosters by earning them, and their success does not operate directly to screw over the rest of the players.