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Ignites Talk: Lisa Edouard Discusses BC’s Silence On Class Difference

The following text was taken from the Dec. 1 installment of UGBC’s Ignites lecture series—which focused on issues of socioeconomics at Boston College—and republished with the speaker’s permission. Lisa Edouard, LSOE ’16, was one of five undergraduate speakers featured at the December event.

I feel exposed. Most of the time I feel like I have a bumper sticker on my head that reads “the poor black girl.” I fit the stereotype. I am a Boston College student that is on government aid and there isn’t a day that goes by that I am allowed to forget this. For a long time, I felt ashamed of who I was, who my parents were, and where I came from. I couldn’t talk about such a salient part of my identity because I was embarrassed.

Every day I’d walk into buildings that cost millions of dollars and swipe an ID card that had more money on it than my parents saw in a year. Whenever people asked me if I was going to a football game, I would always tell them that I bought my ticket when the truth was I had gotten my ticket from Montserrat. I chose not to go on retreats and told my friends I missed the deadline because I couldn’t afford the fees. I opted out of dinners and canceled movie dates not because I came down with a sudden stomach bug or couldn’t get out of bed, but the truth was I couldn’t afford to spend money on dinner or movies.

Every dollar I spent on myself or on going out with friends was a dollar I knew I could have sent home or used to contribute to monthly bills. I’ve never found it difficult to decide where my money goes when I think about the fact that my parents are living paycheck to paycheck. However, I always find it difficult to decide when I began to feel like I am missing out on campus activities and the weight of my responsibilities becomes overwhelming.

There is this conception in our society that poor people choose to be poor. That poor people enjoy being in the state of poverty and therefore choose to remain complacent. However, for me and for my parents there was never a choice, and being at the bottom isn’t necessarily a place we ever wanted to be.

There are also three options that exist in society and are presented to the black female. She can either be pregnant, a drug addict, or dependent on welfare, and if I had chosen either one of these options, I wouldn’t be standing up here today.

As a low-income student, I am constantly telling a story of poverty whenever I go to class, club meetings, or campus events. Even if I’m not discussing my financial situation when I enter these places, it’s always in the back of my mind due to the fact that I can be reminded of it at any instant. If a student group I’m involved in needs us to pitch in money or a campus event I go to is selling t-shirts or there is a donation fee to get into a party, I have to think about my financial situation once again. Even when I enter the Montserrat office or the Thea Bowman AHANA office, I am acknowledging to myself and to everyone there that I have a disadvantage that separates me from others in the BC community.

No matter how grateful I am for these resources, I sometimes hesitate to seek or use them because I am reminded time and time again that I am poor and that I don’t have parents that can provide for me in a manner in which they would like to.

I won’t stand up here, though, and pretend that I am one of the unlucky students because I did get into and attend a university that has programs like Montserrat. These programs allow me to go to football games, receive help on applications, take summer courses, and take advantage of all that this University has to offer.

But my ability to partake in activities doesn’t make my status as a student of high financial need disappear. These opportunities don’t make it okay for me to remain silent about a part of my identity that affects my life at BC just as much as it does at home. I get it: socioeconomic class is difficult to talk about. No matter where you are on the socioeconomic ladder, no one is willingly going to claim that they are of a certain class because there are negative associations that come with being in each one. So we remain silent on this issue because we don’t want to offend anyone.

But being silent about this issue doesn’t change reality or erase the class differences. It doesn’t make it okay for my classmate to say that “all students at BC can afford to be here.” We need to acknowledge these class differences and begin conversations on socioeconomics because it affects our lives as students. Having conversations on this topic will allow us to learn about the experiences of others in all classes. It will also allow us to question our assumptions and rethink what we feel like we know about individuals in other classes.

Standing up here in front of all of you, there is a part of me that is still embarrassed and even a little bit ashamed, but over the last two years I’ve come to realize that my socioeconomic class doesn’t define me. It may affect my everyday life but I am not my income or my parent’s income. I am a Boston College student and I am also a poor black girl, but I choose to speak because my experience matters.

-Lisa Edouard

Featured Image by John Wiley / Heights Photo Illustration

December 6, 2014