Authentic Eagles: On Socioeconomic Class

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our struggles in the constant quest to appear perfect. Embracing our  truths can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials and tribulations of being one’s authentic self at BC.

Rachel Fagut, CSOM ’14

I grew up in Syracuse, New York with four sisters, a mom who worked as a speech pathologist and a bike store-owning dad. By every definition, we were a middle-class family. Both my parents had jobs, and although they could never afford to take us on fancy vacations, we would still go on road trips and hiking trips during school breaks. My parents never discussed money around us, and since we were provided with what we needed, we never asked about it.

Like I said before, my dad owned a bike store. Before the recession, he was the go-to person in Upstate New York for high-end bikes. When the economy crashed, so did our community’s ability to pay for expensive bikes, and along with it went my dad’s store and his employment. At the beginning of high school we were left with one paycheck, two sisters in college, one going through a Bat Mitzvah and two that still demanded the attention that everyone else seemed to be getting. My parents began to feel a heavy financial burden for the first time, but still, we were kept in the dark.

Sophomore year of high school came with a huge wake up call. When I put in my lunch code, I was charged at the reduced price level. I was embarrassed and ashamed because I was worried that the kids around me saw the price show up on the computer, but mostly I was mad at my parents for not telling me to expect this price change. I went home and yelled at my dad—which is something that I regret to this day—and did what any self-conscious, trying to fit in, 15-year-old girl would do: I started using my babysitting money for lunch in order to avoid this embarrassment again. Sophomore year of high school was the beginning of a habit that I’ve continued to this day. It’s a habit that stems from a sense of pride and stubbornness, but also from insecurity. It is a habit of blending in.

“Keeping up appearances” was relatively easy for me in high school: It consisted of a closet full of American Eagle clothes, and that was pretty much it. I didn’t drink, so the cost of alcohol was never a factor, and I was too busy with extracurricular activities to be faced with a lot of social decisions, like affording a dinner out with my friends. Boston College has been a completely different story.

Walking onto Newton Campus, I felt completely out of place. My American Eagle-filled wardrobe no longer seemed like the norm next to all of the Lulus, Lillys and Longchamps. I quickly realized that the facade that I created for myself in high school was going to be much harder to keep up in college.

In some ways, blending in had become a security blanket for me; it allowed me to avoid the questions and topics about my life that I did not want to share, but it also kept me relatively anonymous. I never liked sharing myself before coming to BC anyways. In high school, I acquired an intense ability to listen. It was easier for me to be the person that other people opened up to rather than to be the one that opened up. By dressing like everyone else and keeping them talking, I was able to avoid any sense of openness. I obviously wasn’t forewarned about “conversations” being the center of everything at BC before getting here.

It wasn’t until my freshman year Appalachia trip that I realized how isolating this facade actually was for me. Despite being able to say hi to the majority of people on Newton by name, hardly anyone knew anything about me besides where I was from and where I lived on Newton (shout out to Hardey 3!). Appalachia was the first time that I spoke out loud about my financial struggles growing up. I told my group how much my parents sacrificed for me, and how guilty I felt that I never said thank you. Appalachia made me realize that the one-sided friendships I was forming freshman year were completely disingenuous. I was always expecting the other person to open up first, but how could I expect to find real friendship if I refused to share even small bits about myself?

After coming back to campus, I was on a completely cliché “Appa-high.” I began to reevaluate the one-sided friendships I had made, and really tried to figure out where those friends actually fit into my life. For the first time, I started sharing myself with those who I was the closest with, those who I really trusted. Today, these friends have become the people who know that I struggle to afford the perfect “business casual” wardrobe that seems to be expected of any female CSOM’er, and they are friends who support me when I have to take a while to pay them back. They are the people who see day-by-day the small decisions I have to make based on the amount of hours I can work that week.

I hate asking for help. I’ve always hated asking for help. I think it goes back to my sense of pride; I always want to prove that I can be independent and do things on my own so that I do not have to burden my parents. However, my friendships have taught me that sometimes I do need to ask for help. Whether it be encouraging me to enter the Montserrat raffle for an event ticket, or shedding light onto my terrible decision to major in accounting (because I was really only pursuing it for monetary reasons), my friends have always been there to steer me in the right direction.

For me, authenticity means being okay with being myself. It means that I need to stop putting so much pressure on myself to be or seem perfect, and to ask for help when I need it. And it means recognizing and identifying the people in my life who will always be there to both support and challenge me.

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