I don’t know if it’s the cozy feel of my bed or my tendency to leave my desk to chat with my roommates, but trying to do any job in my apartment has become quite a desperate undertaking. So, to write this column, I braved South Bend’s 12-degree weather to drive three minutes to the Duncan Student Center. It’s a cold day, so almost everyone I meet is wearing a heavy, knee-length parka. And as I walk, I play in my head a little game that I’ve been playing since my freshman year at Notre Dame—noting how many people are wearing a Canada Goose coat.
I had never even heard of Canada Goose until I came to Notre Dame, so when I learned that dozens of my classmates were packing into $1,000 parkas – intended for explorations in the ‘Arctic – to walk to DeBartolo Hall, I was honestly shocked. These are great coats, and I’m sure they keep you warm, but I couldn’t believe anyone had that much disposable income to spend on a winter coat. Of course, you can’t really know anything about someone’s financial situation based on just one item of clothing they own. I just know that my $200 Lands End coat seems to do the job just fine.
Canada Goose coats have always fascinated me as they represent how laid back wealth is for many Notre Dame students. More than half of Americans don’t have enough savings to cover an unexpected $1,000 expense, even in an emergency. And yet, I heard stories from my freshman year of college students leaving their $1,000 Canada Goose coats at off-campus parties and not bothering to come back the next morning to pick it up.
None of this is really surprising in a school like Notre-Dame, is it? The cost of attending this school in 2021-22 was $78,347, with tuition alone being just under $60,000. The school provides generous financial aid, both based on need and merit, offering people like me the opportunity to attend. Yet the net price of a Notre Dame education (i.e. the average amount spent per year after aid) is $31,318, more than $12,000 more than the net price of the University of Iowa, my public school.
What is really ironic in all of this is the fact that I noticed the richness of the student body. For all intents and purposes, I come from a wealthy family – my parents provide me and my brother with substantial financial support, and I never really thought about money as a kid. They fully funded my (very expensive) high school debate team activities, and my part-time job at Dairy Queen was all about having money to spend at the mall, not the grocery store. I’ve never been one of the 38% of American college students who worry about not having enough money for the semester, nor am I among the 70.2% of college students who plan to pay their expenses. without any economic aid. of their families. I was undoubtedly among the wealthiest students at my public high school, in a neighborhood where 75.7% of students receive free and reduced-price lunch. However, as someone who can only be at Notre Dame with the help of scholarships, I sometimes feel like an outsider because of my financial situation. I can’t even imagine how isolated one would feel here as someone who comes from legitimate financial difficulties.
I’m not just putting out vibes here either. An in-depth analysis of US college wealth in 2017 by The New York Times found that Notre Dame had more students in the top 1% (15.4%) than in the bottom 60% (10%), and more students in the top 0.1% (1.7%) than the bottom 20% (1.6%). This is unfortunately not a problem unique to Notre Dame either – these patterns persist at most elite private universities.
It may be too obvious to say, but none of this is normal. It’s not okay to be able to spend $80,000 a year on an education, it’s not okay to almost never interact with someone who lives paycheck to paycheck. But I think there’s a decent number of students who don’t realize how financially unrepresentative Notre Dame is, and even for those who do, we don’t talk about it.
At Notre Dame, I’ve certainly participated in class discussions where I can tell no one talking in class has had a real experience of poverty, using phrases like “self-destructive behavior” and “lack of work ethic” to describe the situations of Americans in extreme poverty. I’ve been on service outings with other students who are “nervous” about leaving the Notre Dame bubble and traveling to the poorer neighborhoods of South Bend. Even in a school like Notre Dame, which I think makes an above average effort to encourage service, students are uncomfortable interacting with poverty.
This type of biased classroom environment also impacts how students perceive the world as a whole. A viral tweet from a professor at the Wharton School of Business last week illustrated how: After asking students how much they think the average American worker earns per year, “25% of them thought it was more than six figures. One thought it was $800,000. In reality, the number is closer to $50,000.
It’s hard to find an event at Notre Dame where someone doesn’t refer to the students as America’s future leaders. Yet we are anchored and influenced by an economic environment that looks nothing like America. As students, we don’t have the power to lower tuition fees or make Notre Dame a more financially inclusive institution. But we have the power to work harder to get out of the Notre Dame bubble, to recognize that most Americans aren’t as wealthy as the average Notre Dame student, and to recognize the class implications sewn into the seams of a Canada goose coat.
Ellie Konfrst is a senior political science student with a minor in the Hesburgh Program for Public Service. Hailing from Des Moines, Iowa, she’s thrilled that people are once again compelled to listen to her great catches. You can find her off campus trying to decide whether or not to go to law school or bragging that Taylor Swift follows her on Tumblr. She can be reached at [email protected] or @elliekonfrst13 on Twitter.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.