Class warfare goes both ways on income ladder

By Associate Editor

Class warfare has people volleying verbal bullets up and down the income ladder and a New York University student is taking the brunt of the attack.

Vanessa Csordas-Jenkins, a junior theater and dramatic literature studies student at NYU, is under fire along with all other students who rely on their parents for money.

Csordas-Jenkins was featured in a column titled “The Hunt,” a weekly offering of The New York Times in which people detail how they find their apartments. The story outlined her problematic living conditions: She shared a dorm with another student and could not study because her roommate was inhibiting her ability to sleep by making too much noise— Csordas-Jenkins has sleep apnea. She requested a private dorm room at her college only to be told there were none available, prompting her to begin a search for a small studio close to NYU’s campus. The caveat was that she had to pay a $3,000 broker’s fee and agree to shell out $2,100 a month for her little private corner of urban paradise.

Almost immediately, dozens of satiric and sarcastic articles popped up on websites such as Gawker and Bullet Magazine, followed by hundreds of comments that sounded like a particularly vicious call for a reenactment of “Les Miserables.” Rather than move on with their lives, the commenters opted to obliterate Csordas-Jenkins with posts that attacked her character, career prospects, sex appeal and, of course, her perceived upscale socioeconomic status.

It is the same type of thinking that crops up when people attack one another for being different; it stems from jealousy or an inability to understand another’s situation and fosters the stereotype that there is something less admirable about being reliant on one’s parents. There is nothing shameful, though, about being dependent on one’s parents, particularly while in college. But the faceless screen names released a barrage of toxic attacks on Csordas-Jenkins and students whose parents support them, engaging in a practice known as “class-shaming.”

According to a June 2010 study in the Journal of American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law titled “Humiliation: Its Nature and Consequences,” public shaming and humiliation results in a severe loss of self-identity and causes people to disengage from the larger community in search of like-minded individuals. This behavior often isolates people, which can be particularly damaging considering the “spoiled” stigma associated with the affluent.

All of Csordas-Jenkins’s haters obviously don’t have parents willing to pay for their housing  —hers happen to be university professors, not Wall Street magnates — but recent studies have found that most students are relying on their parents to foot the college bill. According to a July 29, 2013 poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports, 87 percent of parents with college-aged students consider college very important. That same study also found that 81 percent of parents plan to help their children pay for school.

Seventy-nine percent of parents said they could afford to somehow aid their children financially, and 27 percent of students use family funds to pay for college. If all students were given the option to have their college expenses paid for without the burden of paying off their own loans, the majority would jump at the chance.

Many responses to articles about Csordas-Jenkins are littered with opinions of students who claim they would never pay as much as Csordas-Jenkins does for her apartment. However, on-campus students at private colleges often do. The most expensive studio dorms at NYU run an average of $2,074 a month.

Similarly, the cost of housing at Columbia is much higher than surrounding off-campus options, a trend consistent among most private institutions. To live in a private bedroom or a private studio in campus housing, students pay an average monthly rate between $1,290 and $1,684. While it’s not the $2,100 that Csordas-Jenkins opted to pay, it’s close.

If students are willing to pay that much money for housing, there should be no reason to lodge complaints about what they can afford. Dorms are meant to be sanctuaries and a home away from home for students.

Anyone who pays private school tuition is entitled to seek a place to study and live in peace without fear of mockery. If people still have a problem with the prices others are paying for housing, then in the words of Marie Antoinette, let them eat cake…if they can afford it. But think first before attacking a young woman you don’t know.