For Freshmen. By Freshmen.
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Aug 02 2016
by Melis Ozkan

Human, but a Lesser Human: College Homelessness

By Melis Ozkan - Aug 02 2016

The streets are tough, but what a lot of people don't expect is to see their fellow classmates struggling financially. Homelessness also does not necessarily manifest itself in people living or begging on the streets. Students are usually silent about it, but may be judged as harshly as someone in the streets who is asking for coins. Open your minds, friends, and let's check out this issue. 

The Issue


One quick look and from the corner of your eye, a judgement based on appearance is born. For the less financially fortunate, this could be a major factor in low self-esteem.

Oftentimes, our appearance gives us a sense of confidence that changes the way we carry ourselves. For homeless people, this confidence is shattered every day from not having a comfortable place to stay and missing a foundational element in the hierarchy of need: safety. It is the reaction that the homeless get from other people that creates this sense of insecurity and timidness of asking for true help in putting a life back together. Instead, they resort to asking for money on the streets.

The Facts


UNICEF created a social experiment called #ForEveryChild in which a girl dressed in nicer clothes was treated much better than the same girl wearing dirty-looking, older clothes. Here is a video of the findings and how the little girl broke down from how people treated her as lesser. What this experiment presents is a confirmation of an inherent bias that most people possess when interacting with strangers.

What is eerie about homelessness and being treated as a lesser human is that this actually happens to college students more than expected. According to a study done by the University of California, and average of 1 out of 10 college students is homeless. In an interview with NPR, George Parker, a student at Cal State, Fullerton said, “I can admit, like, I probably can think of a handful of instances where I should have asked for help and I chose not to because I was embarrassed and I was ashamed.” The stigma of asking for help in a world where it is assumed that college students have a loving family who supports them is one of the biggest issues. Homeless students often question whether it is OK to ask for help, but when someone, especially a stranger, offers to help, there is a deeper sense of validation and renewal of faith in the human race. It is when someone refuses to treat you like a lesser human that an unshakable confidence is born within.

Imagine yourself, a student who is supposed to be experiencing some of the best years of your life, living in your car and unsure about your next meal. Food (or maybe no food) for thought.

The Lesson

Confidence is the key that lets people who do not have the basic necessities to ask for help. Before this confidence can even begin to burgeon, we must be aware for the problem and be willing to put aside our inherent biases.

Perhaps the best way to avoid letting our inherent biases control the way we treat people is to be conscious of our preconceptions. Then, we can surpass the initial judgments which limit our perspective of people who may have an interesting story. In many cases, they may even have something enriching to offer us like how to live independently. After all, college students are learners and most of them want to make this world a better place.

This is your call to reach out to other students who may be in need of help--whether it is homelessness or lack of socioeconomic means. Ultimately, an awareness of student homelessness and a release of a prejudice against people who may not be as fortunate as we are is the first step to moving on from an unfortunate situation to creating a more informed and accepting society.

P.S. Academic institutions, a similar course of action might be beneficial for you as well. 

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Melis Ozkan - University of Chicago

I can talk about biology like it's gossip so please don't get me started on how the smooth endoplasmic reticulum just doesn't get the attention it deserves. Oh, I also enjoy slamming my clumsy fingers into keyboards in an attempt to make the world a little happier. :)

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