The Stigma of Being Low-Income

By: Venessa Lopez

In 2015, South reported ethnic demographics roughly parallel to national averages, test scores well above national averages, and a 90 percent rate of high school graduates enrolling in college. We have a lot to be proud of, yet a stigma remains around the issue of economic diversity.

“South is a rich kid school,” Willamette High School senior Jozie Donoghue said.

Donoghue’s generalization about the socioeconomic status of South students does not encompass all students, but severe segregation remains within the 4J district. South claims the University, Fairmount, and Friendly neighborhoods – some of the wealthiest in the city.

Many South students made similar generalizations about other schools, thereby perpetuating the stigma of being from a low-income household. To protect the identity of low-income students, some quotes are anonymous. In fact, Some of the harshest generalizations are made within South’s student body.

“I kind of have this awful stereotype of people who don’t go to South, that they’re sketchy because they’re in a really low-income situation,” an anonymous South student, who herself identifies as low-income, said.

Even though there are an overwhelming number of advantages in diverse school demographics, racial and economic segregation remain huge issues across the country.

South junior Chago Oribe said that in his hometown of Jackpot, Nevada, most people earn minimum wage working in casinos. “Just enough to get by,” as Oribe put it. “Everyone there is miserable. There’s nothing to do, and no one has the money to do anything,” he said.

Oribe’s experience in a poverty stricken area may seem abstract to some at South, but this is a harsh reality for many students across the state of Oregon.

Oribe admitted that when he first got to the South Eugene area, he could not help but think that these were the kind of houses his family used to drive by and only wish to own. I had similar thoughts my freshman year at South, and I grew up just on the other side of town.

We need to be having more positive conversations about diversity at South and in the state of Oregon. Being from a low-income household means not having access to the same resources that many of your peers do. These disadvantages are often overlooked but unquestionably play a role in student success. A large portion of the student body is on free or reduced lunch, yet many students remain ashamed of the low-income status of their household.

Economic diversity often determines the support available to students at home. Oribe recalls staying up all night to visit with his mother.

“We lived in an apartment, and I had three siblings and just my mom, who had to work two jobs,” Oribe said. “It sucks, never getting to see your mom.”

There are students at South who work a job to help support their family, but some may find themselves in a position where they can make more money selling drugs or stealing things than they can make working an honest job, and are put in a moral dilemma by way of the situation they were born into. Sometimes, desperation leads to having a police record at a young age.

“I feel like a lot of people who come from poverty end up doing things that would be considered bad. I had some friends that would sell drugs in order to get more money for their family,” Oribe said.

As students begin to solidify their self-identity in high school, it is crucial that they feel supported by their community, and this begins with the conversations we have with our peers, no matter where they stand economically.

“It’s hard getting back to school and saying that all we could afford to do was go camping over the Summer,” an anonymous South student said.

Income is very closely related to a person’s pursuit of higher education. Rising above economic disadvantages may be easier said than done, especially if your family holds a long history of poverty. Our country is in the midst of an educational revolution. At the core of this issue is a call for social reform in the way we regard people who have overcome adversity in being low-income. If you or someone you know finds themselves needing support, there are many resources available to low-income students at South.

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