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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Let’s talk about class

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Oftentimes, our class isn’t a comfortable topic to talk about at Carleton. First of all, our socioeconomic background is regarded as highly personal and information that shouldn’t necessarily be disclosed. Secondly, Carleton does a great job at hiding our class. We all live in the same housing, eat at the same places, and take the same classes. Carleton tries to ensure that there are no financial barriers for classes, programs or activities that require a fee or have extra costs. It is a testament to the student body that wealth and possessions play a very little role in social status. Most of the time, class as a hidden identity is fine and in this way Carleton levels the playing field.

This is great for the most part. It keeps us comfortable, and we don’t have to broach the taboo topic of how much money our families have. Despite this, it is arguable that class is something that we should talk about. No matter where we come from, how much money we had growing up or how much money we have now, our socioeconomic status has a profound impact on how we navigate Carleton. Often, class dictates whether someone’s previous schooling has prepared them for a college environment, whether they can afford to participate in various programs, how often they can go home, and how many hours they must work a week alongside their busy Carleton schedule.

But our discomfort about our class may extend beyond the low-income experience. Carleton is a space where we often have to reconsider and reevaluate our class or privileges. Carleton’s wealth distribution is considerably different from that of the nation, and perhaps different from that of our individual hometowns’ and communities’. Additionally, we are now living in a community full of people with varying backgrounds, including their socioeconomic experiences. Perhaps we are evaluating misconceptions and social biases regarding other socioeconomic identities, while also fighting biases about our own. Perhaps we are rethinking what it means to be “middle class,” as its definition is different at Carleton than it is elsewhere. Perhaps we’re feeling discomfort at acknowledging our privileges or realizing our financial hardships. Carleton is a place where we may be continually reevaluating what “social class” means to us.

So, while it’s great that generally “class doesn’t matter at Carleton,” maybe sometimes it does matter and maybe sometimes it’s an important thing to talk about. Carleton students and administration should be aware of the struggles of low-income or middle-class students. Awareness of and acknowledgement of barriers and hardships is the only way to make Carleton more accessible to a more diverse population. Carleton prides itself on being a healthy community—a residential campus where we learn to live together, have meaningful conversations and continue to learn about each other and ourselves. Pervasive discomfort about an identity, an identity so ingrained in our experience and lives as socioeconomic class, is detrimental to our goal of creating a campus where differences in identity can be explored in a healthy manner.

Maybe we should not talk about class all the time, but we should be able to talk about it when we need to. For example, when a conversation about class could help students who are struggling with financial barriers, struggling to understand their own identity, or struggling to make Carleton a safe environment to talk about our differences.

We, members of Interfaith Social Action (IFSA), want to start a dialogue about class and wealth at Carleton. IFSA is a group of students dedicated to reflecting and acting upon issues of social justice at Carleton and beyond. Our group has worked on immigration reform and, more recently, racial justice and fostering a dialogue on class. In Spring 2015, we printed a publication titled “Class and Wealth at Carleton College”, which can be found online, in at the Chapel, the GSC, and various other campus offices. We would like to continue the discussions started by this publication in person, and so we invite you to join us in the Great Hall at 5:30 pm on Thursday January 28th, for dinner and an open dialogue about class and wealth at Carleton. We hope you can join us!

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