Brown University students focus on harnessing privilege for social change

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PROVIDENCE — The resource generation wants to know: what if we relied on our communities for financial security instead of trying to accumulate wealth individually?

A group of Brown University students are urging their wealthy peers to contribute to a “redistribution fund,” so they can help meet the financial needs of the UFLI population (undocumented, first-generation, low-income ) from school.

Matthew Mellea, 23, co-founded the Brown University Chapter of Resource Generation in September 2021, along with Caroline David and Zoe Kupetz. As of December 30, 2021, the group has received more than 100 requests for assistance with housing, transportation, medical emergencies and other expenses – and raised $17,450.

“I realized there was no need for me to continue accumulating my own wealth while other students were struggling to meet their basic needs,” Mellea said.

When Mellea, now a junior, started college in 2017, he said, he was struck by the wide socio-economic disparities he noticed among students. According to a New York Times study, the median household income of a Brown University student is just over $200,000. About 19% of students come from families earning $630,000 or more per year, while only 4.1% come from families earning $20,000 or less per year.

Mellea said he wanted to challenge the norm, and in 2018 heard about Resource Generation, a nonprofit founded in 1998 with a vision “in which wealth, land and power are equitably shared”.

According to Resource Generation, wealth privilege is when a young person has $50,000 under their own control, is part of a family with a net worth over $1 million, or belongs to the top 10%.

Resource Generation members are asking individuals to assess what it would mean to stop accumulating wealth altogether and suggest using a “redistribution fund” to help those with less wealth.

Using guidelines from the organization, Mellea and David led weekly meetings last fall for a group of seven fellow students to discuss how to leverage privilege for social change. At the end of the eight-week series, participants were inspired to do more than just criticize structures of inequality and chose to commit to the Redistribution Fund.

Zoe Fuad, 20, was a participant who decided to contribute to the fund on a monthly basis. She said: “I was reconditioned to stop wanting more and more. I realized that “success” was not measured by money and material possessions. »

Money from the redistribution fund is managed by Adela Herce, 21, a program coordinator at the university’s U-Fli center. She wants attendees to ask themselves, “What money am I not using right now that could directly benefit someone right now?”

“My upbringing minimized the role of money,” she said, “I’ve always valued people over money.”

When students apply to the fund, Herce said, they tend to downplay their needs in order to allow others to also receive help from the fund. Herce said she prioritized requests for housing and food assistance and kept $700 in reserve funds for emergencies.

Students are questioning how wealth is viewed as a competitive measure, said Johnathan Collins, a history professor at Brown who studies the democratization of wealth and the redistribution of resources. Instead, wealth should be viewed as an opportunity to distribute resources and engage others.

“It starts with understanding that the whole is as great or greater than the sum of its parts,” Collins said. “The redistribution of wealth opens up opportunities for there to be a plurality of access for everyone.”

Not all students see it that way.

Jay Young Cho, 21, said every person should take advantage of discipline and hard work to build wealth.

Ryan Handel, 21, expressed skepticism about how wealth redistribution would be implemented nationally and said individuals should be able to manage their wealth as they wish. He said: “Any charity should be an individual decision and not constrained by law.”

Still, Mellea said he can imagine a future where the value of community replaces individual agendas.

“During the pandemic, the ultra-rich profited while other people faced unsafe working and living conditions,” he said. “These problems can be solved with a fairer distribution of wealth.”

Over the next semester, Brown University’s Resource Generation Chapter will continue to fundraise and respond to student requests. The fund has received many one-time donations, but Mellea is keen to stress that redistribution should be a recurring action to challenge the accumulation of wealth. In partnership with underprivileged students, the group imagines a fairer society.

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