The Illusion of the American Dream at Furman

Written by Anonymous, Contributor

Many college students hold fast to their hopes of the American Dream; the enticing idea that anyone, regardless of where they began, can work toward a better quality of life. It is the reason why we invest absurd amounts of money in education and put forth long hours of effort and time. However, the American Dream is truly a fantasy for a large portion of Americans.

In 2019, sixteen parents, including Lori Laughlin from Full House, faced charges in the college admissions scandal that had already caught dozens of high-class individuals. “Overall, 50 individuals have been charged in the scandal—33 of them were parents allegedly seeking to boost their children’s admissions prospects through doctored standardized tests and bribes to college athlete coaches,” (Nevada Public Radio). This highlights that money and privilege can override the work ethic and diligence that the American Dream is so fundamentally built upon. Furman University is, unfortunately, also an accurate representation of the illusion of the American Dream by reinforcing structural barriers.

In 1975, Joseph Faegin—one of the first to study poverty—found that “the role of characterological flaws in causing poverty (laziness, substance abuse) were supported more strongly than structural causes (discrimination, low wages) or fatalistic attributions (bad luck, unfortunate circumstances).” Because, if the American Dream offers a better life to those who work, then those who do not live a stereotypically good quality life are lazy. 

The American Dream perpetrates class justification and meritocracy—the idea that the poor deserve their economic status, as do the rich. In a 2016 study, participants who were primed with a high mobility status believed more in generational mobility and individual responsibility for their own economic status. Through the influence of these beliefs, the American Dream can be used to shame those in lower socio-economic classes. It creates a relational barrier. It can cause a lack of sympathy and/or understanding of those undergoing financial struggles. Under the beliefs of economic mobility, it is viewed that they are liable for their own situation. 

Here at Furman, less than one percent of students come from a poor family and go on to become a rich adult. The illusion of the American Dream lies in the lack of class mobility. Ranked 69th out of 71 total in the New York Times for mobility index, students that shared the same hope as my grandparents already face a major disadvantage. Furman is known for giving students an advantage above other schools, a source of opportunity and a good future. They have coined the term “Furman Advantage.” However, about 16 percent of Furman students come from the top one percent and 71 percent from the top 20 percent. Furman’s private liberal arts education caters to the higher class students, keeping alive the cycle of poverty and classism through acceptance letters.

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