Wellesley College is the 10th most expensive university in the United States. Before aid, each year costs a student more than the yearly median salary in the U.S. While there is financial aid, our steep tuition means a significant portion of the student body comes from the top 20%, making the wealth inequality feel particularly severe. Fining students exacerbates this issue.
According to the New York Times, in 2017 approximately 11% of Wellesley families made more than $630,000 a year. Simultaneously, 6.5% of Wellesley families made less than $20,000 a year. For those included in the 11%, a $20 fine is a drop in the bucket. Though for the latter group, that unexpected cost is much more significant relative to their income. Is having an unequal playing field in our residence halls acceptable? No, these fines are ineffective measures that only serve to disproportionately affect low income Wellesley students.
There are a multitude of ways you can be fined. You can be faced with monetary punishment if you are locked out of your dorm during the day, if you lose your key, or if you lose your OneCard, among other expenses. A replacement key is $10, a replacement OneCard is $20 and each lockout is $10. At face value it may seem to make sense. A Resident Assistant (RA) or the Campus Police are spending their time to help you and there’s a small material cost associated with these losses, but fines don’t stop people from losing things or accidentally getting locked out.
Misplacing items isn’t a choice, and monetary punishment does not have the same effect on every person. For those doing work-study or working on the side to stay here, that’s about an hour’s amount of labor down the drain because of an innocent mistake. Working while attending university is already hard enough, why make it more difficult for those already putting their best foot forward?
One of Wellesley’s stated values is to “affirm that diversity is essential to academic excellence,” but what does diversity really mean to Wellesley College? Economic diversity is a key part of cultivating a rich environment. An institution with high costs and large wealth gaps should pay special attention to this aspect. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to be taken seriously, especially in regards to day-to-day student expectations and activities. What the college doesn’t consider can be made into a long laundry list: textbook costs, lack of cheap transportation options and a lack of access to affordable local stores in a wealthy town like Wellesley. Having Wellesley College tack on additional costs, especially the unexpected ones, are still part of the story.
No one should have to worry about sudden and unexpected payments especially during a critical time of growth in most people’s lives. This issue can be a place of growth for Wellesley too, and we can do away with some of these fines to make our campus a more empathetic and diverse space. As per the orientation motto, let’s ‘flourish’ without fines. Students who have just become adults are going to make mistakes, but let us learn from them without breaking the bank.