Hardware presents a hard choice

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • September 21, 2017

AT ISSUE: Inherent classism in new computer guidelines

OUR TAKE: Uniformity can't come at such a high price

Last year, the journalism department announced the launch of the CreativityKit program for incoming journalism students. It provided the freshman class with 13-inch MacBook Airs fully equipped with Final Cut Pro X, Microsoft Office, and the Adobe suite in an attempt to standardize classroom hardware and software. This year, the department still wants journalism students to stick to a default device—but now, students are footing the bill. Incoming journalism majors were asked to purchase an almost $2,000 model of Macbook Pro last spring. 

There are some benefits to standardization. Professors teaching tech-heavy courses will likely have an easier time instructing students in software without the barrier of different operating systems and hardware speeds. In the inevitable event that students have computer problems, the information technology department can more expediently troubleshoot if they only have to deal with one kind of machine. But journalism classes already meet in labs with powerful computers, and the fact that other departments won’t have the Macbooks essentially negates the benefit to IT.

As appealing as this uniformity may be, it comes at a great cost to students. When the school wants to foot the majority of the bill, requiring OS conformity for all students makes sense. But when incoming students are instructed to drop thousands on a computer with little prior warning, it becomes an issue of classism. Many students do not have this seemingly disposable income, even for a useful tool. The assumption that all students are financially stable enough to make this investment erases the experiences of many students and invalidates their identities. Simply by virtue of income, they are instantly excluded from a core learning experience in their major. An expensive laptop may be a means to an end, but when the means come at such a great cost, the endgame is untenable. 

If any department has major technological demands for their students, it’s visual and media arts. You can’t make it through freshman year as a VMA student without regular access to a DSLR and a beefy computer fit for video editing—nevermind 4K video, color grading, and advanced 3D graphics. But VMA majors are already able to borrow cameras and microphones from the equipment distribution center, and most of Ansin is at their disposal for any editing needs. No one is stopping hopeful filmmakers from purchasing their own equipment, but no one is forcing them to buy their own high-end hardware. So why must journalism students get their own expensive laptops? (Not to mention that you can find equally competent Windows machines for half the price, but that’s a technical argument for another time.)

Emerson’s expectation of its students, specifically those of low-income backgrounds, to purchase expensive equipment in the face of other, more affordable options is ultimately intolerant of the financial stress of its students. This school’s tuition is already barely attainable for many of its students. Therefore, the journalism department’s decision to pressure these same students to adhere to a costly equipment standard only magnifies their economic burden. Moreover, for students unable to afford this expensive technology, their access to other financially-viable solutions is extremely limited. Other than a well-hidden option to appeal (an option listed at the very bottom of the CreativityKit FAQ webpage), students are not offered affordable alternatives. Standardization, while a lofty goal, cannot come at such a high cost.