Lehigh’s socioeconomic makeup is not reflective of the majority of the United States.
It’s common to see Range Rovers and Audis parked on the streets and students filling up their online shopping carts with $200 worth of clothing during class periods.
For students in organizations with date parties and formals, it is an unspoken expectation that women wear different dresses for every event.
Some students do not have to think twice about the amount of money they spend.
According to a study conducted by The New York Times, 67 percent of Lehigh students’ families made at least $110,000 a year. On the other hand, 2.5 percent of Lehigh students’ families made about $20,000 or less per year.
Imagine how different this environment must feel for that 2.5 percent of students.
The prevalence of wealth at Lehigh can be disorienting for students who step onto campus coming from first-generation or low to middle-income families — communities that are not constantly surrounded by opulence.
Some students from wealthier backgrounds, however, may not be aware of the Lehigh community’s lack of financial diversity.
However, every student on this campus has aligned interests — we are here to learn and grow, both academically and socially.
Students who are more financially secure may have no trouble purchasing expensive textbooks and academic supplies, while other students may scour the internet for the best deals, ending up with secondhand materials.
Students with higher spending habits may go out to dinner, go shopping or purchase drinks at the bar without having to bat an eye, while their peers might have to miss out on the social activity of the day because they cannot spend the extra cash.
Simply trying to fit in, whether in the classroom or the bar, might put students in debt.
There is an inner struggle for those who want to maximize their social experiences at Lehigh. Joining a Greek chapter for instance is an expensive activity.
For example, the cost of chapter dues per semester for initiated members of Theta Xi is $1,900 — the most expensive Lehigh Interfraternity Council chapter. The meal plan costs $2,000 adding up to almost $4,000 per semester.
Gamma Phi Beta’s semester chapter dues are $740 with a meal plan cost of $2,100 adding up to $2,840 — the most expensive chapter on the Panhellenic Council.
Students at this school who pay their own dues make a regular sacrifice from their bank accounts for their social lives.
However, Lehigh’s wealth disparity can also be framed in an impermanent way. College is supposed to be a vehicle for upward social mobility and Lehigh fulfills that role.
Out of the 2,137 colleges analyzed in The New York Times’ study, Lehigh was ranked 45 under the category “chance a poor student has to become a rich adult” at 57 percent. The broad network and alumni community that Lehigh offers can further help graduates leverage their career goals and economic status.
This is a motivation for students and their families to take out loans to pay for this education, or more broadly, the opportunity of upward mobility. Then, once graduates do advance they have the opportunity, the responsibility, to pay it forward.
Lehigh graduates have the ability to advance to the top of their fields, to be leaders and decision makers in powerful industries. When holding such power, awareness of the experiences of those different from you, makes you a better, more compassionate leader.
Regardless of post-graduation numbers, students face socioeconomic inequality today as they trudge through college. We all just need to be more aware of our differences.