Jess, @spottieottiejess, started off by reflecting on her freshman year at her universityin a video posted to TikTok last week. She noted that her family had a low income when she applied to school, so she got a “full ride scholarship” to a “top university”
She went on to explain some of the “crazy s***” that people said to her, including how she was told that she had “so much work experience for a freshman” and that she’d been “working forever”. After sarcastically expressing her gratitude over this comment, she shared another experience where her peers asked her to join them at a fancy restaurant in Boston, and she told them she couldn’t afford it.
However, she said that they didn’t understand her remark, as she recalled that her peers responded to it by making a claim about her body.
“They literally looked me up and down and said, ‘Girl you can totally afford it, you’re so skinny,’” she explained. “They thought I meant the calories, that I couldn’t afford the calories. They didn’t think I was talking about money.”
Jess then recalled how one of her family members was “bitter” about her scholarship and told her that she was “very privileged”. She also said that this relative claimed that the “real oppressed people were the upper middle class”.
She noted that while she currently has a “nice apartment”, now that she’s finished school, she still felt like people didn’t realise “how truly traumatising” it was to live in poverty. More specifically, she said that she “gained 50 pounds her freshman year because of a binge eating disorder”, since wasn’t “used to having access to food in a dining hall”.
As noted by Mayo Clinic, a “binge-eating disorder is a serious eating disorder in which you frequently consume unusually large amounts of food and feel unable to stop eating”.
In her video, Jess reflected on how she cried everyday during her freshman year because she didn’t have health insurance. She also noted how she differed from her roomate, who she said wore “Gucci flip flops” when using the communal showers.
“When you do have money, you don’t think about it. When you don’t have money, it literally affects every aspect of your life and will traumatise you forever,” she said.
She continued to point out her previous choice of words, like “finna,” and how someone accused her of “appropriating the way that people speak”. After explaining that she “grew up poor in Atlanta,” she said that she spent the next year and half changing the way she spoke, because she “didn’t want to be seen as insensitive”.
She then recalled how a friend complained to her about a job where she worked for her father, after doing an interview with his company. Jess pointed out why this complaint wasn’t appropriate, considering the job she had at the time.
“She got the job and complained every single week about how she had to work six hours, and it really pissed her off that her dad wasn’t giving her more time off,” Jess continued. “And I was sitting there, like working 56 hours…at a gas station. I just couldn’t be friends with wealthy people.”
The TikTok user then said she felt embarrassed about going to a university with people who used different types of words and “vocabulary” than she did. She also recalled her first day at business school, where students said that their parents worked as “biomedical engineers” or successful “real estate agents”.
When it was her turn to say what her parents did, Jess said that her mother worked at a grocery store, to which her peers awkwardly responded with, “Oh, very cool”. She went on to confess how her finances throughout her childhood “constantly broke [her] down” at her university.
“I was in survival mode for four years,” she said. “I don’t remember any of my college education, which is very sad, because of poverty. And yet people are going to tell me that I’m the one that’s privileged because I didn’t have to pay anything for school.”
She recalled that while her peers talked about going on vacation during winter breaks, she said that she was working during that time. Jess also claimed that while people have called her a “gold-digger” for now wanting to “mary someone who’s wealthy,” this is ultimately a choice that ties back to her childhood.
“I grew up in extreme poverty,” she said. “And I made it. So yeah, excuse me for wanting to have better for me and my kids. Cause I grew up in a house where there was no food.”
She said that when she described her childhood as “ghetto,” because her father was “a drug dealer and in a gang,” someone told her that she couldn’t use that word. However, she herself when using the term and discussing her family.
As noted by Merriam Webster, the word “ghetto” has been used to describe a part of “city in which members of a minority group live, especially because of social, legal, or economic pressure”.
In her video, Jess noted that when her peers sarcastically welcome her to adulthood, she noted that she would prefer that it over her childhood. “I was literally fending for myself at 16,” she explained. “This is actually pretty nice, I would never relive my childhood, ever.”
She then noted that during Covid, her school gave her and some other students money to help them “survive”. And while she said those students felt bad about taking that money “from people who really needed it”, Jess utilmtely felt like they were the ones who needed it.
Jess concluded her video by acknowledging what she’s learned from going to school with people who had more money than her.
“I had to realise that I didn’t have enough money that I thought I did, when I truly realised what wealth was,” she said. “If you’re poor in university, take all those f***ing resources, y’all. Take all of it. Ride them. You’re the one that they’re talking about when they say they need to give it to people that need it.”
As of 31 March, Jess’s video has more than 10m views, with TikTok users in the comments shocked by some of the things people asked her and expressing how they could relate to her experience.
“The way rich people romanticise being poor too, like ‘oh you’re stronger,’’ one wrote, while another added: “Girl I’m going through this right now.”
A third said: “I honestly think these rich people think having no money is a choice. They’ve become so blinded by the ‘if you work hard enough, you can do anything.’”
Other people shared how they had roommates at school who appeared to have grown up in homes with higher incomes.
“My roommate told me it wasn’t fair she had student loans when I didn’t,” one wrote. “I told her it wasn’t fair she had electricity and water at the same [time] growing up.”
“When I was a freshman, my roommate wrote a check for 43,000 casually to pay for tuition. And folded it up and put it in her back pocket,” another wrote.
The Independent has contacted Jess for comment.