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Class History at Bryn Mawr

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jccohen's picture

playing and working with class at Bryn Mawr

Dan, Hummingbird, and Michaela,

Your zine is a wonderful example of how “play” as an approach to a question or dilemma can in fact open up a new and surprising space for learning/researching/teaching.  Some aspects of the zine that seem to me playful in this way include:  your use of cross-outs, e.g. title, claim/ed; your anxious captions under the photo of smiling students (which bodies seem to be superimposed over the room pic--?); the poignant cartoon about ‘fresh people’s seminar.” 

What makes the play work for me on multiple levels has in part to do with the way you’re continually moving us back and forth across different kinds of sources and commentary, and also the overarching movement from past to present.  The sources and commentary come to us/readers largely in the form of ‘voice’ J -- we hear Thomas’ commitments and her tone and likewise we listen in on the ‘dearest mother’ requests and the stress of the fresh person trying to work through the cacophony of voices in her head.  Also, though, the visuals provide point and counterpoint, from the diagram of Pem to the march of young women without sufficient funds leaving Bryn Mawr.  The medium of collage materially expresses the juxtapositions here, making a deceptively simple narrative readable and entertaining on the one hand and quite provocative on the other.

I’m left with questions about institutional change and the role individuals and groups might have in such a process.  You leave us with the reminder that students on financial aid “are not alone” – interestingly, directed to those students – and the exhortation for those students not to be “afraid to talk about campus class issues.”  Several of the comments here highlight issues for the well-to-do on campus; might you want to include them in that final exhortation, or do you want to deliberately address this to particular students?  And what about the institution – are there ways Bryn Mawr could and should be addressing these issues, perhaps going beyond the Class Dismissed project to take next steps…?

HSBurke's picture

Your zine brings back good

Your zine brings back good memories of my ESem, In Class, Out-classed, which discussed the effects of socio-economic class on liberal arts education (yay Anne and Jody!). In thinking historically about class at Bryn Mawr, I think it's interesting to compare it to our discussions of class on campus currently, which you did by bringing in Class Dismissed. However, I've also noticed a trend of shame that permeates on campus, not for being of the lower class but instead for being "rich". I've been in multiple conversations that have eventually lead to talk about financial aid. Instead of being ashamed of having to recieve monetary help from the college (as I assume/you've discussed was the case in the past), financial aid has become a sort of status symbol -- the more you've got the more deserving/impressive you are. It would be likely more shameful to admit that you weren't getting any, because that indicates the ability for your family to pay since Bryn Mawr meets all demonstrated need. This concern over money is also connected to working on campus -- a topic I remember touching on in ESem. I have multiple jobs, and most of my friends have none. While it's hard for me to listen to these people complain about having no spending money or complain about workload, I also understand that not everyone NEEDS to work on campus to sustain themselves. However, this doesn't stop me from making assumptions or questioning their reasons. Why don't they work? Do their parents still give them money? While our perception of the discussion on campus is usually centered on our neglect of the lower-class experience, I think in fact what we shy away from is approaching the conversation of higher-class Bryn Mawr students. The shame that many of these students feel is really no different than the shame that many others in the past and present feel regarding their own financial difficulties. 

Hummingbird's picture

I totally agree – and it's

I totally agree – and it's something Dan, Michaela, and I really didn't discuss too much when working on this. I think that discussion – of not wanting to admit to graduating debt free, for example – is very much connected to the idea of privilege that we've been thinking about in class (how much easier, or at least less stressful is it to think about getting a job when you know you don't need one to pay off debts?). I would push back and say that we neglect speaking about both extremes regarding class here – as you noted, those who don't need loans or need to work feel shamed away from admitting that, while at the same time, those who are really struggling to make ends meet and figure out how to balance work and school also don't feel comfortable talking about it or don't know who to speak with. I think (and this seems to be common for American society as a whole) that the focus is on everyone in the middle. And while those middle class students also face large loans because of the way the higher ed system works here, they do have the social and cultural capital to feel more comfortable in Bryn Mawr's campus. On the other hand, I would argue that students from more working class backgrounds often don't have as much access to the social and cultural capital of their peers (hence, Dan's page on whether I should "have learned this stuff in high school?"). This doesn't explain the lack of conversation about people from high socio-economic class backgrounds, but it does help to explain one of the reasons I think we as a group felt it was important to touch on one experience over another. Class in general is still something we as a school don't seem to acknowlege very much.

Chandrea's picture

Dan, this is great! I loved

Dan, this is great! I loved reading through the zine (as well as your web event for Anne). I knew you were artsy before but this was so much fun to look at! It was visually stimulating and it was an easy read. The stats you listed at the end were pretty comforting - I feel like nobody shares what their financial aid package looks like (which is fine) but I'm glad to know that lots of us get financial aid at the college. Although I've heard a little bit about the class history at Bryn Mawr from my E-Sem, it was a good reminder of how important it is that we address a topic like this on our campus. I thought "Class Dismissed" was a great start for a campus conversation - now if only we can keep it going with your zine!

When that student, Anne, wrote letters to her mom about needing money and clothes, it painfully reminded me of the way I dodge the topic of money when I talk to my mom. I never talk to her about my financial situation here at Bryn Mawr. I don't tell her about my school bill and she knows nothing about my financial aid package. I don't tell her about how much money I have in my bank account and I don't plan on talking to her about how I plan to finance my study abroad experience. Why stress her out? I'll figure it out, right? It was just interesting to see and compare the way we talk (or don't talk) to our parents about money.

ishin's picture

Talking to parents about moneysssss

Hey Chandrea,

you remember the conversation we had in Anne's class at the beginning of the semester--in it, we talked a little bit about how some of us fill out our financial aid because our parents aren't as "literate" in such forms?  You talking about your mother and Anne's letter in the zine reminds me of that.  I guess what hits with me is how this conversation reminds me of how much our money conversation is inevitably tied with our families, and now, the money conversation is starting to become tied with how much our families sometimes aren't a part of it.

Gah, I'm looking over your comment and am realizing you said that in your last lines.

Nevermind. I just agree.

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