The intersection of wealth and community

To be rich at Urban is to be dripping in money anywhere else. Urban is a wealthy school, costing $48,941 per year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average full time employed American makes $44,720 per year. Attending Urban costs $4,000 more than the average American makes per year. Living in a community with so much wealth can result in a complicated, messy, and confusing relationship with money.
San Francisco attracts many, but increasingly only the rich can afford it. The city is home to technology and foggy weather. It is also home to extremely expensive housing and $40 Soul Cycle classes. The presence of the 1% is intensely felt throughout the Bay Area. To be considered part of the 1% in America requires a yearly family income of $421,926. However, to be a part of the 1% in San Francisco requires an annual income of $943,782.
At a Liberty University Speech in 2015, Presidential candidate and Senator Bernie Sanders said, “there is no justice, and I want you to hear this clearly when the top one-tenth of 1 percent…today in America owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.” A new political focus of re-evaluating the injustices of the super-wealthy has resulted in a negative perception of the 1%.
In a school and city that prides itself on its progressive values, Urban students have picked up on the rhetoric used by liberal policymakers. “In the media, people who are of the 1% are portrayed as very greedy and vilified a lot, particularly members of large corporations which may be contributing to climate change and unfair working conditions,” said Wren Crandall ’21. When they think of the very wealthy, Crandall imagines a straight, cis, white male who grew up part of the middle or upper-middle class. “I think about the lack of systemic oppression these people have experienced,” Crandall said. This perception of the 1% as greedy and discriminatory can cause embarrassment among those who are very wealthy.
“I am ashamed of my wealth. It makes it easier for me to live with my wealth if I downplay it in my head, and say there are people who make so much more than me, it’s not really me,” said Fredrick ’22. [name has been changed for privacy reasons] Fredrick actively attempts to distance himself from his wealth, as he does not like to affiliate himself with the part of the 1% associated with greed and a lack of morality. While he feels uncomfortable with his wealth, Fredrick still does appreciate some of the things that come with it.
“I am getting an education that the vast majority of people are not able to afford and thus will not have access to. Leaving this school, I will have fundamental advantages over people who did not get this opportunity, which feels unfair,” Frederick said. While Fredrick is aware of his privilege, many Urban students do not recognize themselves as members of this elite class.
Rosa’s ’21[name has been changed for privacy reasons] family is a part of the 1% in San Francisco. Her parents are investors who make more than $943,782 annually, making them a part of San Francisco’s 1%. Due to her parent’s financial success, “I get private CrossFit sessions [and] I take the bus because I want to take the bus… for environmental reasons not because I can’t afford a Lyft,” said Rosa ’21. Prior to this interview, Rosa was aware of her parent’s income, yet unaware that she was a member of the 1%. Urban is such an affluent community that one can be from a home with an income of at least a million dollars annually and not be conscious that they are exceptionally wealthy.
Bill ’22 is of the upper-middle class, but given Urban and San Francisco’s distorted standards of wealth, he feels like he has less money while at Urban. Compared to his peers, Bill has less disposable income. In order to have money for lunch and other social endeavors, “I had to work a job in the summer…because I don’t get money from my parents,” said Bill “22. Despite not being able to afford going out to lunch all the time, “I look at the city, and I am definitely in the top 25% or something like that,” said Bill. According to KQED, the Bay Area has the third-largest homeless population in the United States. Witnessing this, while also witnessing the extreme wealth in the Bay can cause us to feel confused about where we fit in.
“[Wealth at Urban is] confusing because people assume that I should have [money]. It is assumed that I should have money for lunch, that I should have money for buying Airpods or something like that, and I can’t really do that, and I fall s5hort. And it’s like this feeling of guilt, and at the same time there is another feeling of guilt when I try to explain it because it’s like I am not poor, but at the same time my dad doesn’t work at f****n Apple,” said Bill.
Fredrick experiences a similar class distortion. “I think the class changes here [at Urban and San Francisco] because there is such selecting of the upper portion. I think being in this wealthy environment makes it feel like I am of a lower class. I constantly see people and families that are making loads more money than my family which makes me feel like I am not in the top because I can see so high above me,” he said. Fredrick is aware that his class in San Francisco is different than it would be in many other places.
“I think maybe a San Francisco middle, maybe upper-middle … and in the country and in the world certainly upper middle,” said Fredrick. He has observed that the class he identifies with is greatly affected by the astronomical wealth that surrounds him.
Perhaps the portion of the student body most aware of the extreme wealth at Urban are the students who receive financial aid. “I was in a [art class] where everybody was talking constantly for 12 weeks straight about buying things or vacations they were going on. I am not upset at people for talking about that, but for 12 weeks, it’s just like, can you not talk about that,” said George ’22 [name has been changed for privacy reasons]. “Interactions like this have contributed to this sense of isolation for people who are a little bit on the outside,” he said. This sophomore’s financial aid covers his entire tuition, but the drastic socio-economic difference between him and his peers has made him feel isolated at Urban. “I have heard a lot of people be like, ‘let’s go to Target,’ but going shopping, or going to lunch, aren’t really things I can consider,” he said.
All-day, we attend an almost $50,000 per year school in the Haight. Then, at lunch, many of us leave campus. We walk up Page Street, smile, while politely avoiding the masses of homeless people and purchase our Haight Street Market Co-op produced $10.99 Poke bowl. San Francisco is home to 8,011 people experiencing homelessness, according to a count done by the San Francisco government. San Francisco also has the highest density of billionaires in America, according to SF Gate magazine. At Urban, we are surrounded by the 1% of wealthiest people and people who cannot afford food. Simply put, San Francisco is a complicated place to develop a sense of money.