Project for Open Voices: “My Mom Sent Money via Snail Mail…Cash, Often Rolled Into a Sock”

The Thrill is proud to feature personal narratives courtesy of the Project for Open Voices. Today’s essay was authored by an anonymous member of the class of 2011 for POV’s first publication.

The day I arrived at Kenyon the sky was a brilliant azure color; not one cloud hung in sight. The campus wasn’t full yet because I was one of the Pre-O service kids and we arrived a week before freshman Orientation. My roommate had already settled into the dorm room – she arrived a week earlier than I did for the Writing and Thinking program. She wasn’t in the room when I first opened the door. Looking back I wish that she was there, so I didn’t have to face the stark, empty side of the room, my side, by myself. I had two suitcases filled with stuff; it didn’t take me long to unpack. Once I put everything away, my side remained stark. I only brought the essentials, nothing that made the room look like home. I remember after everything was there looking out of my large Norton bedroom at the perfect green lawn, and the beautiful blue sky, and crying. No, it was more like wailing.

This was the first time I showed any sign of homesickness or remorse. When I was at home I made a point not to let my parents know that I was sad or was going to miss them, because they were so opposed to me going away to college. I had to be happy about going away to college at all times, or they would think I wouldn’t want to and I was afraid wouldn’t let me go anymore. This idea may seem strange to some people, but my parents hadn’t gone to college themselves, so they had absolutely no idea what they were letting their first-born daughter get into. I was also the only person in my large first-generation college student family to go away for college.

Once I was done wailing, the first thing I did was go out in search of food. I went to the deli and got one of their extra large chocolate chip cookies. Then I walked around campus, and was asked a question that I was never asked before in my life: are you an international student? Being from NYC, I was a bit thrown off. I was even more thrown off as I was asked the same questions three times in a row by three different people. This is not an exaggeration. So why do you think someone would ask me that? And how do you think I would feel?

To be honest, I was just very perplexed. There wasn’t any resentment or overanalyzing or anything. I was just downright surprised that someone would question whether or not I was from the U.S.

I entered the college world very aware of race and the lack of minorities within higher academia. I was also very aware of the “self-segregation” of minorities that happens within private liberal arts schools. I was determined not to be one of the students that were so concerned about race. It didn’t bother me that I was the only student of color in my English class. Really, it didn’t. There are so many wonderful, open, like-minded people at Kenyon that I had a lot in common with.

However, when it came to grappling with socioeconomic difference, that’s something I was completely unprepared to deal with. Growing up in a poor community in the Bronx, I had no sense of what it meant to be middle-class. My freshman year at Kenyon I didn’t have a bank account, or credit card, a working phone, or a laptop. My parents struggled to pay the $300 deposits every semester. Anytime I needed money, my mom would send me money via snail mail. And it wouldn’t be in the form of a check either; it would be cash, often rolled into a sock.

I’m not trying to be negative or self-pitying or anything. I love Kenyon. I love my professors and the friends I’ve made there. I just want to let everyone know how startlingly different my experience there was from the majority of people. I think that a lot more should be done to bridge the economic and racial disparity at Kenyon. I would certainly have appreciated some kind of crash course in managing your finances, and knowing how much money I had to have, or some kind of loan to buy essentials like a laptop.

But I really don’t know how this all can be done.

Let me know when you figure out a solution.

13 responses

  1. Why is this anonymous? This essay is strong and her story is nothing to be embarrassed about.

    Has The Thrill lost all credibility and will now post an anonymous essay?

    • Is posting anonymous essays really a sign that a publication has “lost all credibility” ? Sharing some food for thought hardly seems like a lowering of standards.

    • Or possibly that the author wanted this to be anonymous? I’m not sure what the case is, as I am not part of the Thrill, but don’t jump to conclusions so quickly. It helps no one, including the author of this piece. I don’t know her, but I assume she would rather have a discussion of the issues presented here, not talk about her anonymity. Think before you write. Please.

    • Hi Ava,

      The fact that POV publishes anonymous narratives makes it unique and the fact we received about 40 submissions in our last publication, the vast majority of which were anonymous is a testament to the fact that students have a lot to say on the issue, but prefer to do so anonymously. This could be for various reasons and I’ll offer you a few. They may feel uncomfortable sharing such personal information about themselves with the campus, knowing that this information may be the only thing people know about them or associate with their name. On a such a small campus that can get awkward. Or maybe if they attached their name to it, the people who asked the author if they were an international student would realize who they were and then that would get awkward. Anonymity can provide people with the opportunity to express their opinions and share them with strangers and help bring this community together by helping us better understand each other. Considering those ideas may have gone unspoken otherwise, that makes it a powerful beginning.

  2. I had a similar shock when I went to Oberlin College in the 1980s even though my dad had a high degree — we were just poor. I had $1/week for “fun” (fortunately, beer was $0.25 in the Rat). As a sophomore, I got disowned by my stepdad and had to make all my spending money myself, and pay for 80% of fees (fortunately only $1000/semester). When I lived off campus I had only $5/week for all toiletries and necessities and fun. I admit, there was a time I took some tampons from a coop. :( How to get past the isolation of the poor? I have to say, I learned to manage money, which some of my peers didn’t. But ultimately some things aren’t learned unless we have to. A friend made fun of his own car b/c it was only a Honda Civic. It was so cheap and low class to him~! He was from another world…

  3. I’ve got to say that Ava is right here. That’s while you don’t see serious organizations publishing anonymous letters (unless they’re Dear Abby letters).

    Nice mission, bad execution.

    • This is from Open Voices. Anonymity can be pretty valuable when it comes to expressing sentiments about perhaps feeling marginalized by the community at large – and maybe you don’t want everyone to know your financial situation. Plus, it’s not like the Thrill is serious; it’s just a blog, and this is just an invitation to dialogue. A pretty important invitation, at that. It bothers me that people are more hung up on the anonymity than the message.

      If you want to address this complaint to a “serious organization”, talk to the Collegian about publishing that anonymous rape-accusation op-ed last year, which was totally inappropriate.

  4. Great sensitive piece written in a very forthright and personal manner. I enjoyed reading it and getting her perspective. I certainly don’t need her name to appreciate that. I also appreciate the Thrill allowing it. Anonymity, in this sense, is fine. Only if something attacks or makes accusations should attribution be required. Whoever you are, don’t let those who purport to “know” appropriate journalistic etiquette get to you. Your story is refreshing!

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