As a guy who cleaned toilets on his way through Northwestern University, I might be in a unique position to call Bill Recktenwald’s bluff differentiating Medill journalism students and those he currently teaches at SIU [Hot Type, July 19]. When he claims his SIU students “aren’t from the upper class,” and are “hardworking kids who are eager to learn,” he neatly describes the majority of students I lived and worked with as a Northwestern undergrad, about half of whom were in Medill.
Certainly there were brain surgeons’ and senators’ sons among us, who came “from a place where [they didn’t] have to worry about cleaning toilets,” but thanks to Northwestern’s policy of meeting the full financial needs of its students, there are far more working- and poverty-class students at NU than most people realize. My classmates were proud to hail from one-factory mill towns, West Virginia coal towns, Chicago’s south- and west-side neighborhoods, and the very same agrarian communities that fill SIU’s classes. We worked the same kinds of work-study and food-service jobs Recktenwald describes, and have taken the same entry-level jobs upon graduation, with the hopes of working our way up.
If there is a difference in attitude that Recktenwald feels in the classroom, let’s keep in mind that NU draws from among the brightest young minds in the nation. Perhaps we are demanding of our teachers and more difficult to spoon-feed simplified ideals. But on behalf of all Northwestern toilet washers, I’d like to suggest that the difference is not one of background or work ethic.