Though housing prices differ, the double occupancy rooms at AU span from $5,048 to $6,308. AU is a private institution that is not very generous with its financial aid, often deterring low-income students from attending the University. The median family income of a student is $155,300, filling the school’s student body with privileged, financially affluent students. Because of this, there is already a social division between the students. The contrast in housing prices only deepens this line between them.
As my roommate and I looked at sophomore housing options for next semester, I was startled to see how dorm prices differed. McDowell Hall, a traditional double, costs $10,096 per year. Meanwhile, East Campus, a suite-style residence hall, costs $12,310.
East Campus was recently built in 2017, while McDowell Hall has been around since 1962. The difference between the two dorms was quite evident as we went through the virtual tours. East Campus dorms occupy a bigger, cozier space and contain a private bathroom. They also have real wardrobes, unlike the built-in closets in McDowell. Since McDowell is a traditional dorm, there’s no bathroom in the rooms.
The floor lounges also contrast in quality. There haven't been any major reported issues in East Campus, while McDowell faced mold allegations just last semester. Although I’ve only compared the two here, the other suite and apartment-style residence buildings vary from the traditional dorms.
What unnerved me was not just the difference between the dorms but the thought of how this would create a hierarchy based on the students’ socioeconomic status. It is obvious that students from wealthier backgrounds would choose the more expensive housing while the low-income students wouldn’t have the same privilege to do so. Although it is beneficial to provide cheaper living options for low-income students, the distinction in price and quality draws a divide between the two sides.
Income inequality plays a significant role in determining how people’s access to housing differs. In cities like D.C, the poverty rates are higher so you often hear of the “good” and “bad” parts. Architecture contributes substantially to exclusion and separation in order to bolster this social hierarchy. For example, in affluent areas like Georgetown, the hostile architecture is directed to keep the disadvantaged, unhoused population away.
At AU, a place where rich, white students are already the majority, we see the impact of architecture with the way the housing system emphasizes class division. Of course, many colleges also offer more comfortable housing for higher prices. However, this does not mean the housing system does not perpetuate classist ideals, where the results create a social hierarchy at the University. Many low-income students feel they don’t receive the necessary help and support to succeed at elite institutions. Housing disparities only make them feel their social identity at all times and feel more ostracized.
AU students often point out the differences between these living spaces. However, the bigger picture does not seem to be in everyone’s focus. Classism is often an overlooked “-ism” due to its big role in our daily lives. People are conditioned to look past it because it is “normal.” For an individual to become an anti-classist, it is important to recognize the role class privilege plays in many systems we use every day.
Meliha Ural is a freshman in the School of Public Affairs and a columnist for The Eagle.