Affording NU: Family Weekend isn’t accessible for everyone

Allie Goulding, Development & Recruitment Editor

In this series, a writer explores the everyday struggles of being a low-income student at Northwestern

Family Weekend comes at a weird point in the year. You just came back to campus — or got here for the first time — about a month ago. And in another month, you might be going home for Thanksgiving for a few days before coming back to campus, staying for two weeks or so, and then going back home again.

Of course, this entire situation wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the quarter system and football schedule. By default, NU starts school much later than semester schools. Family Weekend also has to be on a weekend with a home football game. This inevitably leaves Family Weekend to fall in between two of the most expensive times of the year for students: move-in and the holidays. Some low-income students have to choose which of these dates they’ll see their families — but most don’t have a choice at all.

It’s exhausting. But it’s even more exhausting when you can’t afford to go back and forth between campus and home every month while your friends can.

My grandparents dropped me off at Northwestern my freshman year. Because we drove from Texas, which takes 19 hours, my grandpa needed to take off three days of work. That’s three days of pay he missed out on. On top of that, we also rented a car and stayed in a motel for two nights. It was very expensive for my family to move me in.

After I asked them to do me a huge favor and bring me up to campus (which they weren’t planning to do in the first place), I didn’t really want to tell them about Family Weekend. I felt like it would be too much to ask in such a short period of time.

I still asked them if they wanted to come up for the weekend, though, but my grandpa couldn’t afford to take off work for another three to four days. It was close to the end of the year, and Christmas was right around the corner. He needed to save his last few days of time off for the holidays, and my grandma needed to save extra money for Christmas shopping.

I was reluctant to ask my dad to come up from Florida to visit for the same reasons. I knew because it was close to the end of the year, he probably didn’t have many days of vacation or personal time left, and even if he did have the vacation time, it was too short of notice for his job to actually give him the time off.

It was too expensive — both timewise and moneywise — for my family to visit me during Family Weekend.

The week leading up to Family Weekend my freshman year, my friends kept asking me when — not if — my parents were coming to visit. I told them my family wasn’t coming at all too many times to count, and each time hurt me more than the last. I was already upset that I was going to have to spend the weekend alone while my peers were going out to eat and visiting Chicago landmarks with their families, and my friends asking me about it wasn’t helping my situation.

They didn’t mean to make me upset — I know that. Regardless, it made me feel more alone. They each had a similar reaction when I told them that my family wasn’t coming to visit, too: they were sympathetic to my circumstances, but they didn’t really know what to do or say.

Finally, one of my friends broke that pattern. When I answered his question about whether or not my family was coming, he immediately asked if I wanted to join his family for the weekend. From then on, I wasn’t dreading Family Weekend. I was looking forward to it.

I was almost expecting it to be awkward to hangout with my friend’s family whom I didn’t know at all, but it was actually really nice. We went to dinner at Lyfe Kitchen, and then my friend and I went with our dorm on a free NU-sponsored trip to see the Broadway play, Fun Home. It made for a really nice weekend — much nicer than I was expecting.

My friend didn’t know how much that weekend meant to me until this year. Being a part of a family — even if it wasn’t my own — made Family Weekend fun for me.

If your family is coming for Family Weekend and you know that a friend’s family isn’t, be courteous. Invite them out to eat or to go see a performance with you and your family, if you can, or invite them to go with you downtown if you’re going sightseeing with your family. Things might be a little awkward at first, but it may also change your friend’s entire weekend like it did for me.

For low-income students whose families aren’t coming, don’t be afraid to reach out to your friends whose families will be on campus, or spend time with your on-campus families. If you haven’t found your place on campus yet, don’t worry — there are many options to feel less alone this weekend. Many student organizations are hosting free or relatively cheap events to go to. There’s NU Nights’ Fall Fest on Friday, 8-11 p.m., or the Big Ten Network tailgate on Deering Meadow before the game on Saturday.

Family Weekend is meant to bring families and friends together for a great weekend in Evanston. Money shouldn’t be a barrier to this, but unfortunately, it is.

Allie Goulding is a Medill junior. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.