11 October 2010

Privileged college students and "hobos": Exactly alike?

So usually the Battalion is boring. But when it decides to spice up the boring with offensive, it goes all-out. One of this week's issues features an opinion piece comparing college students and "hobos." Yes, you read that right. Because privileged college students and homeless people are exactly alike! And comparing them is hi-larious! And "hobo" is a totally not-offensive, not-dehumanizing term!
I was only thinking about how I could eat my lunch and study at the library, but the lack of a home base made me feel like a vagabond. I gave the subject more thought and realized most college students demonstrate the habits of hobos.
Ahahaha! Get it? College students are just like hobos because they lack a "home base." Never mind that they have homes. That's not what being homeless is about! It's about napping outside!
Many off-campus dwellers find themselves in situations similar to this: a full day of classes while running on two hours of sleep simply will not cut it. What's a college student to do? We nap. Anywhere and everywhere we can: outside, inside, on park benches, on the stairs, in class, on couches in the library, on the grassy knoll, in quiet areas or loud. It is possible to find nappers in the most obscure places on campus.
We could debate about whether this author meant something different by using the word "hobo" instead of "homeless." Hobo implies some choice in lifestyle as well as carrying a slightly romantic air. That we've romanticized the "tramp" or "hobo" is in itself problematic; it allows things like this article to imply that homeless people choose to be homeless, or enjoy being homeless. It elides the systemic inequalities in our country that lead to crippling poverty and homelessness. It elides the fact that the vast majority of homeless people are single women with children, by putting forth the image of the "hobo," a carefree, wandering man. And the comparison of the homeless with college students assumes, incorrectly, that there's no such thing as a homeless college student.

What this article actually says is offensive enough, but what it elides makes it reprehensible.
It isn't easy to live the life of a college student, or a hobo, but it will not last forever. Unless you decide to further your education, a job after graduation will give you a bit more stability. The job you so desire will give you a constant influx of cash that will hopefully allow you to keep your cool in the presence of free food, while wearing clean clothes on a regular basis. Rest assured, this lifestyle is temporary.
This conclusion is horrifying. Let's not talk about actual homeless college students, for whom sleeping in the library is not just a convenient alternative to going to your dorm or apartment, but one of very few undesirable options. For whom getting something to eat, a place to shower, or a place to sleep are a struggle, all on top of keeping up with schoolwork and paying for tuition. This could have been a thoughtful article, one that pointed out that joking about being "homeless" because you're broke (not poor) and nap on campus is incredibly insensitive and offensive. It could have motioned toward the fact that A&M likely has its own homeless students, who have few resources in dealing with their struggle. Instead it emphasizes that your own "hobo" lifestyle in college is temporary (and thus humorous!). By celebrating the financial security of the upwardly mobile (and, for the most part, already middle- or upper-middle-class) students of A&M, this piece has a problematic takeaway: Your privilege means you can make jokes about whatever you want, because serious downers like homelessness and poverty don't touch your life. It's not a problem if it's not your problem.

If you're homeless in the Bryan/College Station area, contact Family Promise or Twin City Mission. (Feel free to list other resources in the comments.)

You can contact the opinion editor for the Batt, Ian McPhail, at opinion@thebatt.com, or the general editor, Matt Woolbright, at editor@thebatt.com.


Anonymous said...

I think the term Trustafarian is more descriptive of college kids following Teh Phish. Then again, based on my experience with Aggies and having gone to UT. I imagine that there aren't too many Trustafarians at A&M.

Gayle Force said...

Oh, UGH. Is really all I can say about that.

And too, those charming "hobos" who "chose" the life were often men who had mental illnesses after coming home from war (like the train riders after Vietnam) and were unable to manage integrating back into civilian life without getting the help they needed. PTSD - super romantic! And just like being a sleepy college kid!

Again, UGH. Thanks for shining a spotlight on inexcusable poor-mouthing, Courtney.

Rachel said...

ugh. how is it even possible for the batt to KEEP GETTING WORSE? i mean i really thought it hit bottom in 2005 during the GIES kerfuffle but it's just.

it's like a juggernaut of awfulness.

have they had the giving-up-seats-on-the-bus row yet this semester?

Ryan said...

Damn you for making me read this. I'm going to spend a little while washing my brain out now.

Meg said...

UGH, that article is horrendous. It makes me miss the "fuckwit college columnists" tag over at Feministe. My old school paper was spotlighted there once (they had a history of arguing in FAVOR of blackface!?) so don't worry your not the only one who gets a migraine when reading ye ol'college press.

Something else that bothers me about the romanticism that exists for "vagabond" type lifestyles is that there is definitely a subculture of kids who come from money choosing "homelessness", and other markers of poverty like dumpster diving, hitchhiking, spanging, train hopping, etc for reasons other than necessity.

Like poverty, or simply appearing poor, is more "authentic" or a political statement or something.

It just seems so odd and appropriative. Choosing to reject money/property/whatever, is different than NOT HAVING ACCESS TO THOSE THINGS IN THE FIRST PLACE. Idk idk.

Anyway, thanks for this awesome take down.

Anonymous said...

Icky article Dx I can't even digest it. I suppose at least it's an opinion piece, and not one by a regular journalist.

While there's people that choose to travel and not have a permanent home, I don't think it's correct to call them "homeless" if it's by choice, and not because circumstance forced them to have no home. [but that's irrelevant, I know x3]]