The Language of Collegiate Grit

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Call me “old school,” or a fuddy-duddy, but my reaction to this story by Sarah Wu in the Boston Globe is, “Give me a break”:

Faced with mounting debt and strapped for cash, many low-income college students across the country are skipping meals, buying cheap junk food, or devoting time that could be spent learning to searching for free food events, researchers say.

A national survey published this year by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice found that 48 percent of students in two-year institutions and 41 percent of students at four-year institutions experienced food insecurity within the past month.

The problem of food insecurity — an inconsistent supply of nutritious food — on college campuses has garnered more awareness in recent years, and psychologists have started to take note.

When I attended Carnegie Mellon University, I lived off canned vegetables for a while, selling my CDs to treat myself to Wendy’s every now and then.  That’s when I transitioned from my teenage preference for plain food to the enjoyment of meals with all the extras piled on — not because I discovered my taste buds, but because it hit me that the additional nutrition came at no extra cost.  When I found myself at the University of Rhode Island, I woke up at 4:00 a.m. some mornings to unload fishing boats and took whatever fish or squid were going to be discarded.

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This used to be considered part of the rewarding, empowering struggle to advance in life, and of course — obviously — it was a more common experience among the disadvantaged.  The difference was that it was something of which to be proud; you started there, and through this dedication, you are headed somewhere different.  With the label “food insecurity” tacked on, that source of pride now “disproportionately affects low-income, first-generation, international, and other minority students.”

The insinuation is that society’s failure to give you what you deserve is hindering you from getting where you would naturally transition, as if without effort, and that you can’t reasonably be expected to advance based on your own grit.  Unstated is that framing things in this way takes the emphasis off of the individual and the employers who provide opportunity and moves it toward the sociologists who get grants to do the studies, the political advocates who force redistribution of wealth, and the social workers who dispense it.



  • stuckinRI

    “give me a break” is right. Who didn’t live off of Ramen noodles, canned tuna and saltine crackers while in college?

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