Vanderbilt’s campus population is a majority white one. 63.7% of Vanderbilt students identify as white only. Despite these numbers, my experience has taught me that the culture on campus seems to be less of whiteness and more of privilege.
In the midst of the New York Times publication of a wealth distribution analysis of most universities, discussion of the correlation between privilege and higher education finally has some concrete examples. At Vanderbilt, the median family income for a student is $204,500, and 70 percent of students come from the top 20 percent. These are incredibly high numbers.
This manifests itself from the first day you get to campus: the cars that pull up to move-in day are largely new and luxury vehicles, students load up their dorm rooms with expensive items like Apple T.V.s and luxury bedding. Speaking from my experience as a girl, there is an incredible amount of upkeep that becomes the norm, and it costs A LOT of money. On a weekly basis, many students will go out to eat every Friday night, Saturday morning and night, and Sunday morning and night. Some girls attend off-campus workout classes multiple times a week despite the ample offerings at the recreation center. One popular spot, Barry’s Bootcamp, charges $23 per workout class. Additionally, packages seem to arrive daily for many people because no girl ever wants to wear the same outfit twice and people are constantly replenishing their wardrobes to keep up. Vacations are a huge source of financial investment. In the spring alone, Mardi Gras requires a rental car and hotel fees in addition to Ubers around the city of New Orleans and to and from Tulane, about a 20 minute drive. Mardi Gras alone can cost about $500. That isn’t even including spring break. A service trip, a popular option for upperclassmen, will cost around $5000. Others opt for all inclusive beach vacations at Puerto Vayarta or Cabo. The prices of these vacations are definitely in the $5000+ range. Other popular options include expensive ski vacations or Caribbean escapes. Needless to say, for many, Vanderbilt costs a lot more than tuition and fees.
I was recently talking to a friend that wanted to go abroad second semester because she, even as a child from a wealthy family, didn’t think she would be able to afford keeping up with her friends, who are going abroad first semester. Diversity is often a lot more about experience and socio-economic status than race. If the school wants to bring together people with different backgrounds, they will need to begin including people from lower socio-economic categories. However, Vanderbilt’s current feedback from top recruiters is that the social skills of Vanderbilt students far surpass those of students at other top schools. This makes Vanderbilt students more appealing to employers. While this may not have to do with high socio-economic status, I think it does. This feedback comes from the highest paying employers in New York and California. These companies’ employees make incredible amounts of money. Therefore, the people that enjoy socializing with Vanderbilt students are wealthy. While wealth doesn’t make someone more likable or charismatic, sharing a common experience with others helps someone to understand and connect others in networking and business situations. If the school wants to preserve this connection with elite companies, they might be better off accepting student that can connect with people at the top. I know this seems like an elitist view, but I also think it is a (albeit sad) reality.