The guest speaker said he grew up in a “magic house.” The type of household where there is always food in the fridge and gas in the car. He then paused, looked briefly over the class and said, “I suspect that’s the type of household you all grew up in.”
No one blinked. The class kept going. Everyone seemed to accept this categorization of themselves—and why wouldn’t they? The average combined parental income at U of T Law is a staggering $200,000.
Except that isn’t my reality, my history.
I grew up in the kind of household where my mother cried when the dog ate my lunch because she couldn’t afford to buy me a new one. The kind of household where I would pretend to be sick for school field trips because I couldn’t afford the bus fare.
At U of T Law, that history is erased. All of my friends have lawyers, professors, and senior managers for parents. I sit silently as they talk about their middle-class upbringings and I try to reconcile that reality with my own.
I didn’t learn communication skills in a public speaking class or some kind of leadership camp; I learned them when my mother was evicted for the third time and I had to convince multiple different friends to let me stay with them without ever telling them what was happening in my life.
I often hear the term “poor” being thrown around at our law school. Students joke about being poor while living in a beautiful downtown apartment and travelling whenever they have the chance. Phrases like, “I can’t possibly work for the government or for a non-profit organization because I would be so poor,” are commonplace—despite the fact that the income at a job like that is higher than the average Canadian makes.
This is not to say that students here do not have staggering debt. They do. A lot of it. But debt is different than systemic poverty. While many students here have a high debt load, they also have a lucrative career path to help them get out of it—and many, if not most, have parents that can help them if their situation ever becomes dire. In fact, access to credit is one of the major differentiators between the middle class and the working class. My mother has never owned a credit card because she wouldn’t be approved for one. Working-class people live paycheque to paycheque, not $150k line of credit to Bay Street job.
We forget this at U of T Law. We live our lives like the world is a magic house, like resources will appear without us questioning where they came from. But the world isn’t a magic house, at least not for everyone, and something is surely lost when we live like it is.
*This article was originally published under the author’s name, which has since been removed at her request in accordance with our Editorial Policy on anonymity. Our usual practice is to not publish anonymous articles, but the recounting of personal experience in this article is both valuable to our readers and something that we could not otherwise obtain from a named student.