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Class Matters, But It doesn't have to.

Rae Hamilton's picture

The Elephant in the Room

There are times on Bryn Mawr Campus where nothing seems to be taboo. Conversations can range from the mundane and boring to the deep and thoughtful even to the offensive and abnormal. Yet, the topic of class seems to be the most taboo of all. When class is mentioned, conversations are stalled and an awkward tension mounts. And when someone is asked about his or her class (which is a rarity in itself) a sudden wall is erected around them-- causing a barrier to form between the questioner and questioned. According to a survey done during the 2010-2011 school year , class is the most taboo subject at Bryn Mawr-- everyone is aware of it, can feel it, yet seldom wish to openly talk about it. And through this lack of conversation- this silence- frustrations mount and suddenly what could have been a simple conversation becomes confrontation. This silence was distilled during the Class Matters workshop, where class was the only topic to talk about. And with every word uttered during that workshop, the people who attended grew one step closer to figuring out, understanding, and accepting class. And even more so, I, who was supposed to be a hostess, a leader of the workshop learned quite a lot.

Rockefeller first floor is a tight-knit group of people, who, like I, expect of most people on campus, would rather not talk about class. And because of this, whenever class is mentioned or is the cause for an argument, it’s quick to be forgotten or ignored. I was in a situation stemmed from class distinctions, which I couldn’t ignore it anyone more-- a verbal confrontation ensued-- ending with me telling her that all she ever talked about was money and she was nothing more than a selfish girl unable to see things from other people’s points of view. It was after the workshop that I decided that a conversation that would hopefully set us on the right path to fixing our now broken friendship. During and after this conversation I realized that the discussion we’d just had combined with workshop led me to believe, that seeing things through new eyes destroys the awkward, tense, undesirable and taboo feelings that come when talking about class.

When I talked to the girl after the workshop, she was suspicious of why I wanted to talk again; I explained insight from workshop – unpeeled layers by each person taking responsibility for what they did, than asked why it was such a big deal.  In this discussion, we made sure that what we said was both sensitive and honest.  In the discussion, we took a step back and looked at ourselves without all these extra categories attached that society puts on us. We realized who we were—ultimately, we are not our class and it would do us both good to remember that.  Taking a step back, I could see where she was coming from and she saw where I was coming from, so how could we possibly be mad when we embodied each other.

Moreover, it erased the lines of class. In that conversation, the girl and I no longer were two separate girls from different backgrounds who were trying to work something out, we were instead two people collectively coming together to talk about class and how we see the world differently because of said class. The discussion evolved into talking about the workshop, Class Matters, and Class Dismissed, which is the result of the survey. Talking about the survey had the both of us questioning class and socioeconomic issues, such as: why does a person’s socio-economic background effect how and why they learn? As a society do we allow it to happen? Do we not talk about class distinctions because we are the ones to cause them? And if we do not talk about them we’ll continue to slave to silence that we ourselves perpetuate?

I originally saw the workshop as a tool I could use to passively aggressively tell the people I thought had an issue with class that they needed to go for their own benefit. Yet, sitting in the smaller groups and listening to the different comments, I was the one who learned something about class and how I shouldn’t let frustrations mount and interfere with possible relationships. And with this sentiment in mind, I went back to my dorm, intent on fixing broken friendships. It was through one of these discussions that I was able to realize the power of having a conversation and the data I gathered from this discussion led me to believe the following: that when a person strives to see things through new and different perspectives they have the power to transcend “unchangeable” factors such as the exclusion that comes from class distinctions, and we can look can learn to look past that to form relationship. Bryn Mawr should focus less on what social identities cause exclusion and more on why we allow the exclusions to happen. Although I am not focusing on the data from the original interviews that were assigned in class, the data I got from discussions is just as important in learning something about Bryn Mawr.

In my situation, a discussion was all that was needed. Yet, can this be applied to other situations that happen on campus? With every question we struggled with, more and more appeared, until we realized that when it comes to class, regardless of the situation, conversation and acknowledgement of class distinctions is the first step. If we diffuse the tension and destroy the stigma of taboo by just talking about things such as class when they happen, then a conversation can occur with would certainly be more inclusive than exclusive. It would bring people together rather than driving them apart. What starts as a simple conversation can evolve into a movement. All it takes is having the will to break the taboo. The people on campus perpetuate class and its distinctions. No one wants to talk about it because it so taboo, yet it becomes even more taboo because people find it such a hard subject matter. Yet, the conversation that represent the perfect example of how seeing things eye to eye helped to overlook class distinctions. And how once we get pass how awkward and tense the conversation might be, as long as the people are dedicated to having it and questioning why things are happening, then we collectively can begin to rectify the situation and show that class might matter, but it doesn’t have to. 


jccohen's picture

Rae Hamilton,I am moved by

Rae Hamilton,

I am moved by your story, and this idea that we can talk with each other as a way of really entering each other's perspectives and "embodying" each other is a compelling one to me.  I also have questions:  Is it possible to truly, deeply experience the world as someone different from us experiences it?  How does dialogue help us to do this?  You give us some sense of this, and I'd like to hear more--from you and others.  Are there limits to dialogue as a way of understanding others' perspectives, and if so, what other means might we use?  It's a great point that people on campus "perpetuate class and its distinctions" -- can we totally "erase the lines of class" or are there realities having to do with class differences that will remain?  About your poster: why "nothing matters"?