I grew up in Southeastern Virginia in a middle-class home. The elementary, middle and high schools I went to were all economically homogeneous, as most people’s parents had the same jobs, and most of us lived in the same neighborhood. Wealth wasn’t a polarizing factor because most of us didn’t have much of it.
When I came to Wellesley College, I wasn’t under the impression that the environment would be the same as the one I grew up in. I expected a wide distribution of wealth and backgrounds. After all, the promise of diversity has been presented to my classmates and me from the moment we were admitted. According to the “Diversity and Inclusion” page on the College website, nearly 60% of students at Wellesley College receive financial aid. For me, that figure was not only comforting but also a key factor in my decision to choose Wellesley College. After two months here, I have to say that Wellesley is very socioeconomically diverse. But the broad spectrum of wealth on campus creates a culture divide between students. That’s how I came to the realization that there are two Wellesley Colleges within the institution as a whole.
I began to notice this during orientation week – an already difficult time of trying to navigate a new place and new people. During that first week, I found myself struggling to connect with a lot of the people around me for a reason I couldn’t pinpoint. But retrospectively, the reason why that week was so hard is very clear. There was, and still is, a common factor that determined the extent of the connections I made with people on campus: wealth.
Of course, I would never intentionally write people off because they’re more or less wealthy than I am. But it’s a matter of relatability. Because I’m not wealthy, the experiences I’ve had differ from my peers who are wealthy – and this applies in the reverse as well. There’s a fundamental disconnect between those of us that aren’t economically advantaged and those who are. The fact that our experiences and backgrounds are so different makes it difficult for strong bonds to be made across the wealth spectrum.
“I’ve surrounded myself with people that have very similar backgrounds as me, and my circle is mostly first-generation and low-income students,” commented Stefany Jimenez ’26, who says that the separation is a matter of comfort for her. “Every time I’ve spoken to someone from a higher income bracket or just has an economic privilege that I don’t, it becomes uncomfortable in a way, and sometimes I don’t feel inclined to develop those friendships further because I know we don’t have that similarity.”
For me, the importance of wealth in interpersonal relationships on campus was somewhat shocking considering that Wellesley College is known for being very progressive. Emily Cao ’26 described the dynamic as “two camps” that, understandably, have difficulty relating to each other. When asked to go into detail about her stance she said, “There’s one with the people like me who came from a privileged background and then one with people who had a less privileged background.” Cao attributes the divide to the priorities of the two spheres.
While she has a job on campus this semester, she stated that the money she makes is spending money. But Cao said this isn’t the case for some of the other students who work with her. As a result of the weekly five-hour work maximum, students work multiple jobs in order to support themselves, making it hard for those students to prioritize academics. “I feel like my main priority is academics and I don’t have to worry about if I have enough money to last me the semester or anything like that,” Cao added.
There are students on this campus on full financial aid, constantly under the pressure of having no choice but to be above and beyond in everything they do. They are sacrificing aspects of their social life in order to keep up with school work, and further balancing their academic performance with the jobs they work to support themselves. Then there are students who, because they don’t have to worry about the financial aspect of their life, have far more choice in their college experience. They can choose to go out on Friday nights instead of studying without feeling guilty. Or they can fully focus their energy into their academic success because they don’t have to work full-time for a living wage.
Even wealthy students with jobs on and off campus have a privilege over some of their peers because if they need to they can take the day off for schoolwork without worrying about how it will affect the size of their paycheck. This gives these students an advantage in succeeding on this campus, even though the pressure to succeed isn’t as high because they have the safety net of wealth.
Going back to the idea of relatability as mentioned earlier: How are these two spheres, who live so differently, supposed to relate to each other? They don’t. The wealthy flock together because their lifestyles align, and the same applies to the economically underprivileged. It isn’t my intention to place blame onto either of these groups for the disconnect. But if we, as a campus, become more cognizant of this issue we can narrow the divide. Instead of placing ourselves in situations where we feel comfortable, we should allow ourselves to be in situations where we might feel uncomfortable. This means trying to understand our differences and recognizing how valuable it is to form friendships with students of diverse backgrounds. By forming friendships across the spectrum of wealth, we can promote a culture on campus that is overall more accepting and inviting to students of all backgrounds.