Optional opportunities should be inclusive

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • February 23, 2017

At issue: Expensive networking opportunities

Our take: Extra-curricular trips shouldn’t be only for the wealthy

The communications studies department boasts connections with professionals in the field around the country and the globe. They offers trips to Iowa, Washington, D.C., New Hampshire, and more to learn about the political process and participate in networking events with these notable alumni.

While these trips offer amazing learning opportunities, there’s generally a cap on how many students can go. Beyond that, they’re not funded by Emerson. So they’re really only available to students who can pay their own way.

For example, Emerson students will travel to Los Angeles this weekend to attend the Academy Awards, where they’ll meet with film professionals and learn more about the industry. This is a great opportunity for any students hoping to make their way in tinseltown, one that could be most beneficial for students who might not be able to afford a trip to LA otherwise. Unfortunately, the students participating in this trip do have to pay.

According to a recent study published by the New York Times, only 3.2 percent of Emerson students come from the lowest family income bracket of under $20,000 a year. These opportunities only further isolate the small number of low-income students.  

During last year’s presidential election, the communications department organized trips to the New Hampshire primary and Iowa caucus, both hallmark events in the American political cycle. While the opportunity to attend these political events is unparalleled, the financial barriers to go are unnecessary.

Organizations recognized by the Student Government Association often take similar trips. Communications, Politics, and Law Association takes an annual networking trip to Washington, D.C. Emertainment Monthly sent students to last year’s San Diego Comic Con. Even the Beacon will be sending senior editors to a student journalism conference in San Francisco this March. These organizations can use their SGA funding to pay for students’ travel, housing, and food on trips. These opportunities are open to students who wouldn’t normally be able to pay for such experiences.

An alternative to these trips is making networking events more local, either by bringing students to existing options in the Boston area or hosting our own events. For instance, this weekend, the Public Relations Society of America is holding a regional conference at Boston University. There are undoubtedly other events like this that don’t require a plane ticket. With the plethora of Emerson alumni in the Boston area, it would be relatively easy to coordinate an event with them.

There is also a scholarship available, the Emerson Enhancement Fund (EEF), that can be used towards extracurricular activities. It is available to students with identified financial need. However, receiving the scholarship is not guaranteed, nor is the amount awarded, which ranges from $250 to $4,000. If a student does receive the EEF, they cannot apply again. The EEF is a good starting point, but there should more opportunities for other financial aid options.

It’s okay that these trips exist, but they shouldn’t be marketed as essential opportunities, or risk isolating lower income students. Money shouldn’t limit undergraduate student opportunities, when we have plenty of chances to network and practice communications skills right here in Boston.