Since the late 1960s, applications to live on the Lawn opened up to highlight students with outstanding efforts in both their academic and extracurricular lives. Lawn rooms are praised as one of the highest achievements a students can attain, attracting hundreds of applications every year. I am lucky enough to be one of the students chosen to occupy a Lawn room, but was initially rather shocked about the room's high-priced cost of living — $7,270 for the year. What followed was a Twitter rant about the high price of Lawn rooms, which served as my attempt to prompt a conversation about the accessibility of Lawn rooms for low-income students.
After those tweets, I met with many administrators, asking questions about the price of Lawn rooms and emphasizing the need to make them more affordable — these meetings changed my outlook about the affordability of rooms. There has been significant positive change to make the Lawn more affordable for low- and middle-income students, reforms that should signal to students that the price of the Lawn should not be a deterrent from applying.
The most expensive cost of living on the Lawn is the rent. At valedictory exercises last semester, the Seven Society pledged to donate $47,777.77 to create a fund to help low-income students pay for their Lawn room rent. This is a great initiative and will hopefully signal to students that there are ways to make Lawn rooms more financially feasible. If selected to live on the Lawn, students can work with the Office of the Dean of Students to subsidize their rent. Dean of Students Allen Groves will work with the student to help cover the cost not covered by a student’s financial aid award with the money from the Seven Society’s fund. This initiative shows that students can get help with paying for their Lawn rooms if they need it.
Furthermore, there have been many efforts to lower the cost of living on the Lawn besides rent. For example, as of the 2018-2019 school year, Lawnies are no longer required to purchase their own furniture. The rooms now come with a furniture set and small kitchen appliances. Before the furniture for the rooms was provided, Lawnies not only had to furnish their rooms on their own, but were often pressured to buy the old furniture from the previous resident of their room, which was often passed down for many years and could be very expensive. Now that cost is eliminated, which lowers the overall cost of the Lawn rooms even more.
There are other hidden costs associated with living on the Lawn as well. If you’ve taken a walk down the Lawn on any given morning, you’ve probably seen a Lawnie walking to the shower in their signature robes. These robes aren’t cheap — I paid $50 for mine. The robes are integral to the experience of living on the Lawn, and both the Senior Residents and donors have taken notice of the possibility of the price being an issue. The SR of the Lawn now includes a section in the robe order form where Lawnies can indicate if they are in need of financial assistance for a robe and can also indicate if they are able to help pay for a fellow Lawnie’s robe. To further eliminate this cost, one donor created an endowment to pay for the robes of students who cannot afford them, and those funds are likely to be available for robes during the 2020-2021 school year. Therefore, even the smaller hidden costs of living on the Lawn can be covered.
There are numerous low- and middle-income students that have spent their time at the University serving the community, but there is a chance they aren’t going to apply to live on the Lawn because of the price. It is important that low- and middle-income students are encouraged to apply to live on the Lawn to ensure that every student has a chance to experience it. Lawnies are meant to serve as an example for the University, and they should be diverse in their backgrounds. These positive changes that have made the Lawn more affordable will hopefully signal to every student that achieving this prestigious honor is possible for anyone regardless of income.
Ellie Brasacchio is a fourth-year student in the College and currently serves as the President of Student Council.