Money matters: Leveling the financial playing field at Williams

As an alumna, I have many reasons to feel nostalgia for my four years as an undergraduate. Most of those reasons I anticipated prior to graduation: I knew that, after college, I would miss living with my friends and being part of a community of interesting and intelligent people my age. Something I didn’t expect to miss, or, more accurately, something I didn’t even notice until it was over, is the utopian way in which money was barely relevant in one’s daily life as a Williams student.

Granted, financial aid packages, work-study positions and student loan debts were always part of the equation of becoming a student at one of the most expensive higher degree institutions in the country. But, from my experience, money was rarely a deciding factor in making the day-to-day decisions of how we lived our lives.

As a student, I took spinning classes for free, even after I met the physical education requirement. Cross country skiing lessons were free, as was renting the equipment from the Williams Outing Club. On the College’s dime, my friends and I attended a Macklemore and Ryan Lewis concert, watched professional ballet troupes at the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance and saw Oscar-nominated films at Images Cinema. The College paid for a Japanese drumming performance by an all-female company, and it paid for meals with professors.

On a larger scale, money didn’t contribute to our class’s luck at the housing lottery. We all lived in dorms – some were objectively superior to others, but our fate was determined by random chance and nothing else. We didn’t need money to enjoy priceless works of art above our desks for a semester, courtesy of WALLS – all we needed for that was patience and blankets. Thanks to the generous book grant, money rarely factored into our decisions on which classes to enroll in. And we all ate in the same dining halls, albeit with a guest swipe here and a few extra meal points there.

All of this is to say that the College more or less evened the playing field for us. Here, our choices were in our own hands, and our identities were based on who we were and what we decided to do with our time, not our money. Upon graduation, however, things changed. As we took different jobs with different incomes and paid off our varying levels of student loans, suddenly all decisions seemed to be financial ones. Where we live is influenced by our preferences and priorities, but also by how much we earn, which in turn affects with whom we live. What we do with our friends is impacted by our financial situations: While working at a non-profit and living on a stipend, I had to plan carefully when I went out for sushi with friends one day and saw a comedy show with them the next. Even the jobs to which we consider applying is hugely dependent on our economic status; not all of us have the luxury of ignoring our student debt and letting interest accrue for another year or two.

Insofar as your experiences shape your identity, being able to experience so much while on the College campus is a huge gift for students. It allows them to not only figure out who they are, but also to be who they are. The harsh reality is that setting foot off campus is leaving an ideal world and stepping into the real one, where money matters significantly more than any young and bright-eyed recent college graduate would ever like to admit.

In a way, the College didn’t prepare us for this difference – we were sheltered from money’s importance in our society. But by creating a place in which we were all on relatively equal footing no matter our financial background, the College gives us the chance to develop our identities, form friendships and pursue our studies without the distraction or obstacle of something so superficial and irrelevant to who we are. In doing so, the College also encourages its students to focus on what is, or at least should be, important in the grand scheme of our lives. I’m thankful to the College for promoting a way of life where money doesn’t matter, and I urge current students to take advantage of all they can do with their golden ticket of a little yellow ID card and the perks of being a student at the College.

Libby Dvir ’16 was a psychology major. She lives in New York, N.Y.