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Wealthy Students Outed by Parents’ Weekend Consumption Habits

LIZ STEWART // NOVEMBER 30, 2018 

Parents’ Weekend: a time when our families, like mildly confused chickens, flock to the streets of Oberlin, Ohio. For many Obies, this is either one of the most stressful weekends of the semester — avoiding parties and other nefarious activities to spend “quality time” with loved ones — or one of the best, filled with love and positive attention and fueled by parent-funded, non-Stevie coffee.

But, it has come to my attention that there is a special breed of Obies roaming the campus who particularly fear Parents’ Weekend for reasons that seem unfathomable, but are, in fact, true. During these 3–4 vulnerable days of the year, their well-constructed reputations as struggling artists at Oberlin may suddenly dissolve before their very eyes. Here, I will term these individuals “stealthy wealthies.” And there are way more out there than one might expect.

Spotting a stealthy wealthy can be somewhat counterintuitive. They are exceptionally good at disguising their richesse in dirt stains, workwear, and distressed denim. They hide behind their two-dollar edgy thrifted band t-shirts, tracksuits, or rainbow tube tops, crossing their fingers and praying to the literal holy spirit that nobody will suspect their deepest, darkest secret: that their parents are goddamn loaded.

Yep, this school contains heirs to some of the world’s largest fortunes. Oberlin has seen heirs to the Scotch Tape fortune, a diamond fortune, and to Microsoft (to name a few). There are also many students who are the offspring of B- and C-list celebrities, whose material wealth may be modest but are absolutely rolling in cultural capital. Regardless of the source of their wealth, most rich Oberlin students would rather die than have the full extent of their privilege revealed.

So, when their affluent parents arrive at Oberlin College, clueless about the social implications of being wealthy in the post-Occupy era, the nerve-wracking game of “hide the money” must commence. Unlike their children, the parents of stealthy wealthies do not know how to strategically hide the fortune they’ve worked so hard to attain. It only takes one slip of the tongue for these stealthy wealthies to be revealed — an offhand mention of the family’s country club membership or a second home in Tuscany can cause a well-to-do student’s web of disguise to come crumbling down.

I interviewed Brad Bradley, a second-year at Oberlin, about a horrifying situation he experienced at a dinner at the Oberlin Hotel’s 1833 restaurant with his roommate during this insufferable weekend. He claimed that his parents, who are currently funding Lena Dunham’s new Syrian refugee TV show, mentioned that they were going to Crocker Park to fix his broken iPhone 8 instead of attending a Parents’ Weekend event.  “Yeah, it was pretty traumatizing,” he said while puffing on a cucumber flavored Juul pod. “They basically outed me. I mean, I should obviously be able to be whoever I wanna be, you know? That’s why I decided to attend Oberlin in the first place. Now everyone’s gonna know my secret. And, dude, it’s not even like I’m that rich. I received a merit scholarship for fuck’s sake! That’s basically the same thing as financial aid.”

Entering the Oberlin environment is an opportunity for students like Brad Bradley to mask their inherent privilege. Parents’ Weekend ruins their opportunity to fetishize working class culture. Instead of owning up to their wealth, these stealthy wealthies try to avoid rubbing it in anyone else’s faces, and make what they believe is an admirable effort by saying that they aren’t, “like, rich rich.” They are “upper-middle class” for their white New York suburbs; they read Marx, they think he has a lot of interesting things to say. They are trying to rebel against their class privilege by hiding it. Now, Brad says, he feels embarrassed, guilty, and exposed. We followed up with Brad and asked him if he felt as though he could now mobilize his class privilege by, say, donating to bail funds or contributing to crowdfunding campaigns for trans people of color, but received no response.

It can be difficult to reconcile leftist politics with having more money than god, and Parents’ Weekend can force a reckoning that might prove too much for some stealthy wealthies to handle. Thankfully, whatever activist credibility is lost through the exposure of class privilege can simply be mitigated by treating your parents like absolute shit in front of your cool new friends, and reassuring your less-fortunate friends that you’re totally going to invest your trust fund ethically.