Project for Open Voices: “The Privilege of Screwing Up”
The Thrill is proud to feature personal narratives courtesy of the Project for Open Voices. Today’s essay is titled “The Privilege of Screwing Up,” and was authored anonymously. POV is always accepting new submissions, so if you want to share your story, email email@example.com. If you would like to remain anonymous you can send us your response by signing into a second email account:firstname.lastname@example.org (password: kenyoncollege).
In the middle of my first semester at Kenyon, I drank too much at a party, got alcohol poisoning and was taken to Knox Community Hospital in an ambulance. This phenomenon, one I’ve usually heard referred to as “getting hospital-ed”, is unfortunately not as uncommon as it should be at Kenyon and other colleges around the country. College is so consistently portrayed in the media as “the time to drink” that I’m really not surprised – in fact, I think it’s only thanks to the success of on-campus programs like Beer & Sex that we don’t have more students going to the hospital each year.
When I woke up in the hospital, hooked up to an IV and clad in a cotton gown I didn’t remember putting on, I wasn’t surprised to feel nauseated, ashamed and horrified at my actions. I wasn’t surprised by the consequences – obviously, if you’re drinking underage and manage to consume enough alcohol to require emergency transportation and the help of busy doctors and nurses, there’s going to be some medical and legal fallout. What did shock me, though were the costs.
$273 in court fees. Over $500 in hospital bills (and that’s only because my insurance was covered through my mother’s work.) Upwards of $200 in cab fees over the course of spring semester, shuttling back and forth between campus, the Knox County Courthouse, and the Mount Vernon animal shelter where I did my court-mandated community service. (At this point, few of my friends had cars or were able to drive, so I had to make expensive alternate arrangements to get to these appointments). When I went to the Health Center to inquire about the possibility of using my Kenyon insurance to pay some of the costs, I was told that Kenyon health care didn’t cover hospital stays like mine, ones that came about through overuse of drugs or alcohol. Now, I take no issue with this policy – I don’t think Kenyon should have had to pay for my poor decision-making – but it opened my eyes to my privilege in a way that no experience I’d had at Kenyon ever had before.
It’s hard to think of paying off hospital and court fees as a luxury, but that’s what it was. When I called my parents to tell them I’d gone to the hospital, they were furious and worried and disappointed – as they should have been. They yelled, they lectured, but eventually they forgave me and even helped me navigate the confounding sea of expenses streaming into my PO box. They paid my medical and legal bills – if I had my own money, I’m sure they would have insisted I pay them myself (and I would have readily agreed), but I hadn’t worked since the previous summer, and the cash I’d earned at my minimum-wage job wasn’t going to cover my expenses. Ultimately, my parents had the money and I didn’t, and the bills had to get paid. Thanks to my parents’ socioeconomic status, I didn’t have to stay up nights worrying about how to pay off almost a thousand dollars’ worth of debt – I definitely had sleepless nights after the hospital debacle, but money wasn’t their cause, and I’m only realizing now what a unique position that put me in.
Kenyon offers financial aid for tuition and textbooks and the other hallmarks of the “quintessential college experience”, but what about money for mistakes? I’m certainly not suggesting Kenyon start a “In Case You Get Too Drunk and Go To The Hospital” fund, but it’s incredibly jarring to realize that in many ways, unless you come to Kenyon with money, you literally can’t afford to make bad decisions. Nobody ever intends to get to the level of intoxication that I was at, but I wonder if, on some level, my privilege informed my actions – if I’d had to be more aware of the very real financial consequences of my reckless behavior, would I have been more careful? I was lucky to have my parents help me with costs, but what if they hadn’t been in a financial position to do so? How much would I really have had to pay if I’d been supporting myself through Kenyon and living on a shoestring budget, as many of my friends are?
I don’t think any student should have to go through his or her life at Kenyon racked with fear about hidden costs, and I know that, to a certain extent, making stupid decisions is just a part of college, but are we all equally entitled to that painful hallmark of youth? In a way, I’m grateful for my experience “getting hospital-ed” because it showed me how important it is to stop and consider the unspoken dichotomy that money brings onto our campus. Ever since my experience at Knox Community Hospital, I haven’t been able to stop considering it. I don’t think there’s an easy fix to this problem, but I do believe that if we’re honest about the ease and privilege that socioeconomic status brings at this college we like to believe is beyond class divides, that will be a strong start.