This winter, The New York Times published a list of 38 colleges in America that have a higher percentage of students from the top one percent than the bottom 60 percent of income distribution. Bates ranked number 17.
Understandably, the Times article conflagrated on social media; the day after the statistics were released, both my parents texted me the link to the article. In adjacent columns, the 12.9 percent of students from the bottom 60 percent paled against the 18.3 percent of students from the top one percent. The statistic was, for my family and many of my peers, a slap in the face.
And it was not just a slap in the face for Bates; what was most unsettling, perhaps, was the number of elite institutions that dominated the top of the list. NESCAC schools, in particular, seemed overwhelmingly present. Many of Bates’ counterparts in the conference fared considerably worse than Bates in terms of socioeconomic diversity; Bates was one of eight NESCAC schools– Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, Connecticut, Hamilton, Middlebury, Trinity, and Tufts– to make the list.
We are certainly not alone in our issues with socioeconomic diversity; but these statistics are no less worrisome. Diversity is an essential component of the college experience. As the “Diversity & Inclusion” tab on the Bates website says, “Everyone is different; at Bates, we embrace and learn from that difference.” Diversity of all kinds– sexual, racial, cultural, and socioeconomic– plays a vital role in the intellectual vibrancy of college.
As the website suggests, diversity is a core value on Bates campus. In the past few years, Bates has made a concerted effort to promote this value. Under the Clayton administration, we have made leaps in terms of diversity initiatives. According to the Bates website, Spencer has implemented our first diversity officer, helped improve the number of underrepresented students in incoming classes, and incorporated Bates into the Connections Consortium– an intercollegiate organization that aims to promote diversity on college campuses.
Bates is demonstrably dedicated to the cause of diversity, and it is critical that we look at these statistics through the lens of our progress. But as for now, we cannot escape the numbers. We currently have a higher number of students who hail from the nation’s top one percent of income distribution than those who come from the bottom 60 percent.
So, how do we change it?
The question is, understandably, a complex one. Some of the burden might fall on the administration in continuing to push these efforts which combat socioeconomic inequity. But let us also remember our role as students.
“Diversity and Inclusion” are not problems that can be solved by numbers alone. They are social issues too, ingrained in our interactions and deeply-rooted privilege. Let us recognize that privilege, take classes that expand our experience, make an effort to talk to people different than ourselves, and allow these statistics to guide the work of the college– and our work as students too.