The Month of Understanding (MOU) at Urban is a month dedicated to providing “Urban with an opportunity to focus on and highlight multiculturalism at school, remembering that the work is year-round,” according to the Urban website. In January 2017, as a part of MOU, students in the Urban leadership group Multi Culti held panels on socioeconomic status, in which teachers and students spoke about their experience with transparency around money, wealth disparities, and changes they would like to see at Urban and beyond.
Although socioeconomic status was discussed in MOU panels, some students interviewed still feel that there is a lack of awareness around choice and necessity when it comes to financial needs among peers. According to the Urban website, 27 percent of the student body receives some form of tuition assistance. Urban strives to be an “inclusive community to prepare students for lives in a multicultural society,” as stated in the core values, however, the students who were interviewed expressed that there can be insensitivity when discussing money at Urban.
For this article, the Urban Legend has highlighted voices of three senior students, as they have accumulated perspectives on the sort of “money culture” at Urban that have endured class changes in maturity and awareness.
“Urban has given me so much support that I didn’t even know that I needed,” said Enyolli Martinez (‘17). Urban gives 3.36 million dollars in financial assistance each year according to the Urban School website. This covers everything from day-to-day Flik lunches to outdoor trips.
However, some feel that the aid provided by the school does not eliminate discrepancies in student life. “I am shocked at the disparities that exist at Urban. It can be easy to lose my footing in reflecting on how lucky and privileged I am when I going to people’s’ houses and they are like museums,” said Madeline Matz (‘17).
In an Urban Legend survey released March 21, 52% of 48 student responses indicated that they did not think students were sensitive when it came to socioeconomic differences. One student answered, “In general, I think that many students at Urban are not aware of socioeconomic differences and act as though everyone is wealthy and able to pay whatever is necessary. Of course, many people are aware and act more sensitively, but the overwhelming feeling at Urban seems to be that everyone has the same financial flexibility as everyone else.”
Evie Hidysmith (‘17) said, “In applying to college [the cost is] just not talked about. People don’t think about it. When I got into college my financial aid didn’t come through for a few weeks and so I was freaking out. Everyone was just like ‘Congratulations! You got it!’ and that wasn’t something people think about.”
All three seniors who were interviewed feel that there is a stigma around socioeconomic status at Urban which can make it uncomfortable to talk about. “It’s complicated. I think the level of excess here is not acknowledged here. Having that much comes with responsibilities and I don’t think those are really explored at Urban, even though social class is acknowledged.” said Matz.
How can students improve Urban’s money culture? “Awareness is a big thing. It’s not about choosing to spend money. It’s about not being able. The awareness around that it’s not a choice of what you spend your money on- it’s a necessity. The other thing is assuming that everyone at Urban is rich. It’s easy to do. I have tons of friends on financial aid and people just don’t know. It’s easy to forget because it’s something that you can’t see,” said Hidysmith.