There’s a term floating around that I use often: “first world problems” or “ivy kid problems” since I went to an ivy for two of my degrees. Haters gonna hate, but that’s the bottom line. I wasn’t adopted into a rich family with wealth and disposable income and learned how to work for everything in life. I did grow up in a home with love and discipline and learning what it meant to live a moral life. I was fortunate with my education and it has afforded me with opportunities I would not have otherwise had. Today, I am proud to say that I work with intelligent, bright, and highly motivated students as well as figuring out how to pick other students up and teach them how to help themselves. Working at a big R1 has exposed me more and more to the notion of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have not’s’ in life and it has me thinking.
During grad school, I had the good fortune of working with a great youth from Long Island and live with them for a month while they conducted intense research projects on campus. They were wonderful students of diverse backgrounds including religion, ethnicity, economic statuses, and home lives. I enjoyed this month immensely knowing that I learned as much as they did. They all did not have supportive parents, thoughts and dreams of college, or monetary means to even buy anything extra in life. That month really helped me change my shift from thinking about the ‘haves’ and the ‘have not’s’ in life.
Let me elaborate. The ‘haves’ are the students or people who have means or the ability to think about things differently, go to college, and have the support of others to help bolster them. The ‘haves’ may not have the most talent but they have the network around them to help them succeed at their own level.
The ‘have not’s’ are the students or people who don’t have the means to think about things differently, go to college, or have the support of others to bolster them and have faith in them. The ‘have not’s’ often have the talent but lack the network around them to support their goals, dreams, and applaud their success.
It’s not so easy as black and white in these two categories but I firmly believe it boils down to one thing: faith. Not faith in religion, but having faith in someone and their abilities. I have faith in all of the students I worked with that summer. I had faith in them when no one else would. Sadly, I didn’t have enough of the other things these students needed and at least one of them ended up dropping out of high school. It broke my heart because I knew this student could have been successful in completing high school but he had too many of the ‘have not’s’ in life. He did not have supportive family, he did not have anyone else around him to help him see he could be successful whether in college or in the world of work, he did not have anyone pushing him to finish high school and no one placing the importance on a high school education.
One of my students will be an incoming freshman here at my university in just a few weeks. My heart was full of pride and happiness as he texted me in the spring to tell me he was accepted with about 90% scholarship funding. I was so happy to give him a big hug recently as he and his mother traveled 10 hours for freshman orientation and meet his mom, a lady who has worked herself to the bone to get her two sons their education. She came to the U.S. decades ago so her kids could be U.S. citizens and she raised them by herself while working as a full time nurse and later a home health aide. Her English is broken, her son did a lot of translating for us, but her smile and pride for her son needed no translation. She had an older son at Harvard and will soon have another at a prestigious R1.
This woman embodies a mix of the ‘haves’ and ‘have not’s’ in life. She does not have a lot of money, in fact they are virtually homeless right now, living in a room together of a friends house. She pieced her education together over the years but didn’t have anyone pushing her, supporting her, guiding her. She did have the fortitude to know that if she could have her kids in the U.S. she could help them open up doors she did not have. My student told me once what his mom told him, “I made it here to the U.S. so you and your brother could have the opportunities now it’s your turn not to waste them.” A smart lady with enough of a drive so her sons could HAVE the opportunities she did not.
This is a humbling thought that I had not spent a lot of time reflecting on until recently. I would say that many of my so called problems are ‘first world problems’ and rarely are they serious. As I continue to work with this student this fall, I have told him and promised his mother that I will be his advocate, I will help him when his mother cannot because she is too far away, and help him navigate when he needs it. Whether a trip to a big box store for dorm supplies, a home cooked meal, or a faculty figure to help him choose classes and make educational decisions, I have invested myself in this young man. He HAS support from me and PIC. He now HAS a network so he never has to feel alone. He will make friends, settle into a schedule of courses, and with my help, he applied for and was accepted into a leadership living community to help him succeed. The only thing that will hold him back now is himself. His mother, his teachers, his family, his older brother, and now PIC and I are on his list of “have’s” in life and he is very lucky to have had such a great foundation.
Outside of this student, I spent the spring working with students of a mix of the ‘haves’ and ‘have not’s’ and my heart broke when one student saved her snack because there would be no supper or meal at her house until she got to school the next day. I was immediately filled with guilt since I knew where my next meal was coming from and that I could not save her.
I see it in my first generation college students, much like the student above, their families have worked hard to make sure their child earns an education. I saw parents moving their daughter into the dorms last summer and the father was giving a lecture to his daughter that went something like this, ” you’re the first one in this family to go to college, we saved every nickel we have so you can do this, and we know you can do it.” The little brother had come along to see the big campus, see his sisters new dorm room, and you could tell that the family had made every sacrifice to give their children more options in life. It brings tears to my eyes to think about it because I know that for every family like this one and my new students’, there are 100 more that are the opposite.
Thinking about the ‘haves’ and ‘have not’s’ and doing something about it are different. I never assume much about students anymore, they all have such unique stories to tell, but I do know that I will support this new freshman because he deserves support and as long as I HAVE that to give, it’s the least I can do.
As a new faculty, how do you think we can help the ‘haves’ and ‘have not’s’ around us?