USC’s reputation erases its diverse students

The University’s stereotype of wealth overshadows first-generation students at USC.

(Ally Marecek / Daily Trojan)

“The University of Spoiled Children” has long been the reputation of our University. From a more than $90,000 annual cost of attendance to the student population including the children of some of the wealthiest families around the world, it comes as no surprise how prominent this narrative is in the University. It’s not uncommon to see Van Cleef bracelets on wrists and Goyard tote bags as book bags — wealth is almost expected within the University bubble. While the University has a solid academic standing, some students effortlessly blend luxury brands into their educational spaces, bringing their status into lectures. 

The intellectual rigor of USC draws people of certain wealth by its brand name, reputation and state-of-the-art buildings named after massively successful alumni and donors. But despite this, USC’s stylish campus is also home to a vibrant community of first-generation, low-income students who can’t escape this narrative. 

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Many first-generation and low-income students come to USC and are told over and over again that the reason that they are able to attend is because they come from wealthy families. The presence of first-generation students at USC is often overshadowed by the perception that only high-income people have the means of going to excellent colleges. 

Academic success should be expected from more than just wealthy students. Wealth undoubtedly contributes to accessing better educational resources such as private tutors, enriching extracurricular activities and college admissions resources  — all of which enhance the overall learning experience. However, as the University’s number of first-generation students rises yearly, now at 25%, it still feels like our presence is ignored. 

While signs of wealth are easily found around campus, one-fourth of students come from historically underrepresented areas, with different stories when arriving on campus. Though USC’s reputation does hold true for segments of the student body, many find themselves placed in a narrative that does not align with their reality. The narrative diminishes their recognition on campus: As the stories within the first-generation population are unique and diverse, they often go unnoticed and are overshadowed by the stereotype of wealth, which discredits all the hard work that first-generation, low-income students do to get to USC. 

Programs at USC, such as the First Generation Student Assembly, have ensured this population is noticed and that resources are dispersed among the community, such as offering social events, mentorship and workshops in navigating college life as a first-generation student. Representation matters, especially in educational institutions in which a low percentage of the population is present.  These programs also provide a learning opportunity for non-USC students to think about the students at USC who come from diverse backgrounds. 

First-generation students are more than deserving to be on campus and should be recognized when discussion of the campus population comes around; USC is not only composed of students with wealthy backgrounds but also of students who are the first in their family to attend university. Students who come from immigrant backgrounds, mixed-status families and low-income households live in the very community that USC was built on — so let’s not pretend that it is not possible for us to attend this University too.

The feeling of being overshadowed is familiar and shared among first-generation students. The efforts made to push the percentage of first-generation students higher is being noticed; however, even with this, the students’ contributions to the University tend to not receive proper acknowledgment. To foster belonging and understanding of the various communities at USC, we must acknowledge everyone on campus and not perceive every student to be the same. In striving for inclusivity, we must elevate these stories and celebrate the accomplishments of first-generation students. 

Embracing the stories and diverse perspectives on campus ensures every story gets told and heard. Regardless of the University’s stereotypes, it should be recognized that not every student fits within that realm: To say, “You go to USC because you are rich,” enforces a damaging narrative of the attachment of wealth to higher education. We need to deconstruct the idea that only the wealthy can make it to college. That is not true for all 49,500 students at USC — each with a unique background and story. As students, we must learn from one another and value every community present at USC. 

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