Attendance is mandatory, but so is my socioeconomic status

When I arrived on campus for the first time last August, I was intrigued and excited by the sheer range of extracurricular opportunities offered to the Case Western Reserve University community. After reading about one particular organization online and meeting representatives at their booth during the second week of class, I successfully auditioned for the team.

One of my favorite aspects of this team was the sense of community. This dynamic was one the coaches sought to perpetuate, so they would mandate that everyone participated in team dinners during competition weekends. Initially, I didn’t even think twice about this, believing that bonding was an integral part of the type of teamwork required by an organization like this one and eagerly planning for events like this.

However, when the coaches announced the location of each team dinner, I became concerned; the coaches frequently directed us to upscale restaurants with prices as exorbitant as the food was delicious. On one trip, the coaches scheduled the team dinner at an upscale Hibachi restaurant. I bit my lip as I stared at the menu. The cheapest option on the menu cost twice as much as I had in my bank account. I furiously texted my mother to ask her for emergency dinner money. I was nervous and embarrassed and nobody knew it. This couldn’t be happening.

I come from a single parent household. As a result, my mother manages to pay for my schooling and food and clothing and everything else, on top of paying rent on an apartment and paying the rest of her bills. I didn’t have a job, and I was still living off of my paychecks from my summer job and a neat little monthly allowance my mother insisted upon providing.

I was in no position to be spending large amounts of money anywhere, let alone on a meal which was required by people who had no idea that I couldn’t afford it. When my largest expenditures each week totalled to only $10 or so, a $25 meal required by my team was obscene.

Those nights, I would eat only because I had spent money I didn’t have. I went to bed that night feeling sick to my stomach because I asked my mother for money I knew neither of us had, and felt even worse because she had given it.

My eventual decision to leave the team was, in fact, heavily based on this event. I fully accept and understand that there’s a limit to what the team could pay for, especially because they were already paying for our travel and lodging during competitions.

I would, however, expect that they make such events inclusive. The line I kept repeating to my mother and my friends who knew of my situation was: “I can’t be the only one who can’t afford this.”

The stereotype of CWRU students is that we’re well off, upper-middle class students coming from four-person households with two income-earning parents. Our $65,000 bill is, perhaps, what supports this stereotype the most.

This isn’t reality for most of us. People like me who come from single-parent households are here only as a result of hard work and thousands upon thousands of dollars in student loans.

We didn’t inherit the ability to go to a good school or have access to all of the organizations that are a part of it. We earned it.

To me, requiring that students participate in expensive team dinners is just another form of discrimination. It’s particularly ironic in the context how diverse our campus is, since resources are made available for quite literally every other type of minority student on campus.

People forget that we exist, forget that people like us don’t have the luxury of money at their disposal for any and every little thing that is “mandatory” for some reason or another. Faculty and staff need to remember this when they demand something of their students that requires them to pay. That’s still discrimination, whether or not they realize it. It’s discrimination that needs to end.

Katharine Toledo is a first-year student studying history and economics on the pre-law track. Her hobbies include watching Netflix, staring at photos of her two beagles, frequenting Mitchell’s Ice Cream and writing for The Observer.