Finding Common Ground

By Nico Tuccillo (Loving Liberal)

Very often I read articles describing how “elitist” and “out of touch” college students are with the “average” American. I have issues with these assertions, but before I explain them I think it important to try and understand why people like me would be labeled as such. First off, is there validity to these accusations? Well, yes. According to a recent study of 38 colleges, including five Ivy League schools, there were more students from families in the top 1% of annual income than from all families in the bottom 60%. This is a slice of the general trend at most colleges and universities -- students tend to be richer, in fact much richer. Less than half of kids hailing from the bottom fifth of families even attend college. Furthermore, even though many universities attempt to make college more affordable, they do little to make it more accessible. The percentage of students from the bottom 10, 20 and 40% at elite schools (schools ranking towards the top of annual listings) has remained flat over the past 15 years, and if anything has decreased slightly. Meanwhile, the percentage of students from the top 1% has grown in that time by a significant margin.

These are not negligible statistics here. It is clear that colleges across the country are largely out of reach for the majority of Americans. Thus, I understand, and it even makes logical sense why, college students are accused of being “elitist,” “out of touch,” and “misrepresentative.” We are, literally, elite. We are, literally, misrepresentative. And because of that, we by definition literally don’t see the world through the “common” lenses. However, when these insults are hurled in my direction, I still argue back, because they are almost never meant literally.

When someone calls me elitist, they aren’t making an observation on my level of income. They are accusing me of having no sympathy for the poor, of not understanding how good I have it (my “privilege”). When someone calls me out of touch, they aren’t simply commenting on how I’ve never lived in squalor. They are insinuating that because of my bubble, I can’t comment on theirs, that I attempt to ignore the needs of the rest of the world and rest on my bed of laurels. When someone calls me “not an average American,” they again do not mean it literally. It is an insult and accusation, and demeaning message meant to say that my life story makes me less American than them. I see it all the time, everywhere, every day. Harvard was forced to open it’s Yard to the public under the accusation of being to “sealed off from reality.” Al Gore was accused of being too intellectual, while George W. Bush was a better candidate because he seemed like a better guy to “have a beer with.” Scientists are mocked, engineers and educators are laughed at, and not being able to get a higher education has gone from something not to be ashamed about to something to be proud of.

This is wrong, on so many levels. For one, it further divides our people, because instead of joining together to help get more lower income kids into universities, we become pitted against one another in a circle of spite. Furthermore, this aggressive attitude against higher education makes no logical sense. College students are much greater advocates of minimum wage laws, of education reform, of social programs that help the poor and the needy and the sick. We are disproportionately more likely to want to help those not lucky enough to join us on campus, and yet bizarrely we are demonized for it. This can not last.

We have to be able to reach some common ground, some common level of respect. Yes, college students are more liberal, we are richer, we are more educated. But that alone says nothing of our characters, just as being conservative, poor and without an education says nothing about one’s character, either. If we are to have meaningful, constructive debates about the future of our country, we need to realize that having one more degree next to your name doesn’t equate to one less level of care for America or its most suffering individuals.

To help, consider visiting this website, http://www.imfirst.org/strive-for-college/donate-2/, where you can donate to first year college students, advocate for education reform, and join the cause to make higher education accessible to all. The less we demonize intelligence, the better off we all will be.

Here's how author Nico Tuccillo suggests you can get involved: Donate to I'm First!

Take Action Now: Education, Science