Having rich parents isn’t a personality trait

Shahamat Uddin, Intersections Editor

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Each time I catch a whiff of chicken curry, the fragrant aroma immediately brings me back to the many nights I spent waiting tables with my dad at our small family restaurant. 

I would rush into the kitchen, challenging myself to balance more dishes on my arm than the last time I was there, read back the customers’ order to the chefs, pause for a second to smell the delicious cuisines of my culture and then run out to the newlywed couple at table E5.

Puzzled, the customers would stare at the 14-year-old boy delivering their food to them, and I would assure them that I was of legal working age in the state of Georgia. 

Czars Trinidad | Layout Editor

At the end of the night, my dad, the two chefs from the kitchen, the family friend waiter and I would sit around a table in the back, counting checks, tips and earnings from the night. My dad would always give the largest share to the worker caring for the biggest family or the one with the suffocating healthcare bills, never taking extra for himself. Seldom would he ever give me a cut, assuring me my future college education would be the best payment he could ever provide me as a salary. 

The food service industry is the most integral part of who I am. It is a reflection of my parents’ sacrifice to serve others to serve me. From spending my childhood behind the restaurant counter, organizing checks and bills, to my preteen years, throwing spices around the kitchen and watching curries boil to the perfect texture, at last to my high school life when I took on the role of a waiter.

I never would have been able to understand the wide breadth of life without having witnessed my parents climb the rungs of the ladder of the American dream. From that, I was rudely awakened by the obscene amount of wealth —  students’ parents’ wealth—I observed during my years at Tulane.

In November 2017, The Hullabaloo reported on the shocking implications of wealth disparities on Tulane’s culture. The New York Times found that approximately 70% of Tulane students come from the top 20% of the richest families in America. 

The cultural impact of these statistics shows the type of Tulane student who is both accepted and praised on this campus. I think about what makes a student at Tulane alluring, what gives them social capital and makes them “cool.”

Scrolling through my Instagram feed, I admire the sorority girl with the edgy, stylish clothes, the boy I met at The Boot who is in a different European country every weekend and the friend who features a new indie concert in each of his Snapchat stories.

And I wonder — are these qualities of people that reflect who they are or reflect how much money their parents give them to do these things? 

I keep scrolling, and I catch a post from a girl in my Thursday evening class. With the perfect lighting, she is laughing with her white friend at a darty, holding a giant bottle of Svedka in one hand and a red solo cup in the other. I cringe. 

In every professional experience I have ever had, not posting something like this was the number one recommendation I had always received, especially if you are underage. Is she not worried about that? I remind myself of the prestigious internships she has had over the past two summers. I also remind myself that she had received them through her parents’ connections. 

Students with rich parents can publicly display recklessness, unprofessionalism and even underage drinking, but they are still able to fall back on the safety net of their parents’ wealth. They can display a full immersion into Tulane party culture, boost their social status among their peers and still face minimal consequences.

Tulane students are fed the idea that they need to not only buy into a wealthy lifestyle, but also flaunt that immersion on all platforms they can. If I were to pass my Instagram feed to a non-Tulane friend, they would likely say that our students spend money, party and then post about it on social media. 

During my first few years at Tulane, I desperately tried to subscribe to the qualities I saw in my peers. I thought that wearing pricey clothes, travelling more and going to expensive events would make me a more interesting person. The traits that we are presented as the predominant Tulane experience share one common theme: a grossly wealthy background. 

Are students from poor families simply not cut out for the Tulane experience? In 2017, the Washington Post reported that at Tulane University, approximately 9% of students were Pell Grant recipients. Pell Grants are awarded to college students whose families earn roughly $45,000 or less in a fiscal year. 

As a Pell Grant recipient, I faced a crossroads. Do I miss out on the Tulane experience or worsen my financial situation by attempting to be a part of it? The fear of missing out on becoming a “cool” college kid and experiencing the best four years of my life in the best way possible was preparing me to bring myself to the extremes of financial sustenance. 

Having rich parents is not a personality trait. Once I came to this realization, I found it much easier to disassociate with the predominant wealth culture of Tulane. 

Money gives people the access to be whoever the coolest person on social media is. If I am having to pay excessive amounts of money to be the best person that I can be, then my sense of self-worth really has no substance at all. 

A university culture should not revolve around how many experiences your parents can buy for you. It is a coddled and fake version of reality. As long as the wealth culture predominates at Tulane, its students will be increasingly unprepared for the real world as they graduate. 

While my parents have never been able to set me up with a corporate internship or pay for music festival tickets, the adversity they faced to give me what I have is what has brought me closer to them than anything.

The moments I have cherished most with my parents are those of us scrubbing the floors of the restaurant bathroom together and translating angry Yelp reviews into Bangla. While these experiences may not have made me the flashiest kid on my dorm floor, I feel like I have been able to touch even more parts of the world than the guy who has been to every single country in Europe.  

At a university with around 70% of students coming from the top 20% of the richest families in America, it is easy to confuse interesting and cool people with people who just have really rich parents. 

*Shahamat frequented several European countries while studying abroad.