Interview analysis essay
The way students at Trinity College view race and social class varies from person to person. These variations often depend on if the student is white or non-white or on financial aid or not. Students who were non-white and white had about an equally high perception of racial barriers. Non-white students not only felt racial barriers from white students but also from other minority groups on campus. Racial barriers less often directly affected white students, but many admitted to seeing situations that opened their eyes to the racial barriers on campus. Another discrepancy was between financial aid and non-financial aid students. Students who were receiving financial aid equally cared and did not care about self-presentation, while a higher amount of non- financial aid students did care. Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton describe these ideas about social class in Paying for the Party. The book analyzes how certain girls living in a known party dorm fare in school and in the party scene based on their social class. Beverly Tatum’s book Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? focuses more on race and talks about different stages people go through in understanding and accepting their race. Both these books support the patterns revealed in the interviews. The patterns seen in the interviews illustrate how significant race and social class are to people’s interpretations of life and their interactions with others.
To investigate this topic, our seminar conducted an interview-based study of students’ perceptions of race and social class at Trinity. Our interview guide posed ten open-ended questions and three demographic questions that explored topics such as personal awareness, social interactions, and other students’ assumptions regarding racial and social class differences at Trinity. The Office of Institutional Research and Planning provided our professor with a stratified random sample of 55 sophomores from the Class of 2016, categorized by race (white or non-white) and first-year financial aid status (receiving or not receiving). Our professor sent personalized email invitations to this group and assigned each of us to conduct an interview with all who responded and agreed to participate. The typical interview lasted about ten minutes and was transcribed by the interviewer. The final sample consisted of 18 interviews: 10 students who received financial aid (4 white and 6 non-white) and 8 students who did not receive financial aid (4 white and 4 non-white). All names are pseudonyms and personally identifiable details have been masked in accordance with our research ethics confidentiality agreement approved by the Trinity College Institutional Review Board.
It would be easy to assume that students of color would perceive racial barriers differently, but in fact it seemed as if both white and non-white students had a similar perception of racial barriers on campus. For non-white students only 3 out of 5 had little perception of racial barriers and for white students only 3 out of 7 had little perceptions of racial barriers. The students who saw a separation of race mentioned how they found it sad to see. One non-white student Juan talked about how he experienced a Caucasian student changing his way of speech and mannerisms around him. “He would always greet me using the phrase ‘hey what’s up brotha’” (Juan 4) even though this was not consistent with how he spoke. Another non-white student talked about the racial separation he saw within minority groups on campus not just between whites and non-whites. Luisa talked about wanting to join a minority group on campus, but she felt even it posed a racial barrier as she said, “I guess like it’s hard to explain but I feel like they were really like cliquey in a way because I didn’t exactly come from like wherever they come from and I didn’t speak fluent Spanish” (Luisa 10). Interestingly other students felt similar racial barriers from other students of color. Andres talked about minority groups on campus that he felt did help him, but also as he said, “I go to the events and stuff, but in a sense I feel like they’re harboring the kids a little more than they need to” (Andres 13). This creates more of a social barrier because students in a sense get “stuck” in these groups and don’t branch out and meet other students. It is interesting to think about what stage of racial formation they would be in according to Tatum. It would seem as if Andres, Juan and other non-white students are in the immersion stage “characterized by a strong desire to surround oneself with symbols of one’s racial identity” (76). Even so, when trying to join minority groups, they feel a lack of connection with them and that separates them even more from other students on campus.
Comparatively many white students experienced a high degree of racial barriers on campus. They talked about seeing these barriers rather than feeling them directly. Abby said her perception of racial barriers was heightened because of a class she took freshman year and also because of her interactions with Hartford residents. Even though she does not feel barriers personally she said, “I just see less people making assumptions about my race than I do see people make assumptions about other people’s race” (Abby 40). Another student Abe reported a different experience; he went to a discussion put on by a group and was one of two white kids in the room. “ I felt really uncomfortable because I felt like the conversation was about like you know uh basically what minority students receive on campus” (Abe 46). With white students there were two types that saw racial barriers, one group that did not believe they were directly affected by it but saw judgment being passed and another group that did feel barriers between themselves and non-white students on campus.
An interesting pattern that could be seen was that students who experienced some kind of racial judgment were very nonchalant about the situations. One would expect more anger towards the situations they encountered, but mostly students said it was not a big deal and it only happened once in a while. One student did seem upset by a situation involving racial judgment, but it was directed at his friend not himself. More than once a non-white student mentioned being stopped by campus police and asked if they were a student at Trinity College. Fred was a student who had been stopped by campus police but in one of the questions before he revealed that he had been a non-white student stopped by campus police, he said, “I think it’s an encompassing campus so there aren’t many people who are defining you because of your race.” (Fred 22). Then he went on to reveal that “ A couple times Campo [Campus Security] has stopped me because of it…they’ll stop and ask me…I well I assume it’s because of it [his race]…they’ll stop and ask me if I go to school here.” (Fred 23). Yvonne also talked about racial profiling. She said on days that she wears sweatpants and dresses down, people have asked her if she goes to the school or if she lives in Hartford (20). Many white students have “dress down” days where they might wear sweatpants and none of them talked about this happening. Other situations where someone would expect a stronger reaction were when other students either teased people because of their race or assumptions were made. Ruby, an Asian student, said, “People assume that just ’cause you’re Asian you’re gonna be great at math and chem, and stuff like that.” (Ruby 30). Ruby just laughed these assumptions off and said she even failed chemistry twice. This pattern of not fully acknowledging the reality of racial assumptions on campus was prevalent throughout the interviews.
Another aspect of the interview involved social class and its effect on the Trinity College campus. How concerned students were with self-presentation differed on whether or not they were on financial aid. Out of students on financial aid 4 out of 5 did care about self-presentation but for students not on financial aid 6 cared while only 3 did not. The 4 students on financial aid who were more concerned with appearance often talked about how others’ reaction towards them changed according to what they were wearing. When they dressed up, people were more likely to be polite to them. For example Kaylie talked about the repercussions she feels for not dressing the same as other students. She said, “If I am not wearing that particular jacket or pair of boots, they would assume that I am not on the same level as them. They wouldn’t speak to me.” (36). She understands the importance of keeping up appearances. Ethan had another reaction to appearances. He made an effort to dress in a certain way so that people could not make assumption about his class. He was happy with the fact that people cannot “pigeon-hole him,” which is a good thing he believes and he strives to keep that up (Ethan 50). The students who did not care as much about presentation and were on financial aid often discussed how so much revolves around materialistic things on Trinity’s campus and that did not interest them. Andres explained how he can see that people try to conform to a certain look, but he does not feel the need to join in. He said I see “groups of people walking together that are…they all look alike.” (Andres 11).
Paying for the Party by Hamilton and Armstrong elaborates more on the idea of social class. They discuss sorority rush and explain the importance of appearance regardless of social class “…the way that recruits signaled commonalities in social class [was] via the expensive accessories” (page 81). For students not on financial aid there was a much bigger difference between students who did care about self-presentation and students who did not care. Abe, a non-financial aid student, observed at Trinity a large spectrum of social class and said, “I never really cared about social class and then when I came here I felt like it’s like, you basically hangout with your own social class” (Abe 45). Abby, a student who is not on financial aid because of a merit scholarship says she does not openly discuss this fact, “but when she does [and] when people do hear [that she is on a merit scholarship] they’re usually very surprised” (Abby 38). It is what people wear that can indicate their social status. On the other hand there are students not on financial aid who found the whole materialistic aspect immature and pointless. Luisa talked about the fact that people associate with those in the same social class and said, “ It’s just really narrow-minded and child-like and like when we graduate like obviously you’re not gonna be like it’s just like kinda stupid to do that.” (Luisa 51). She doesn’t see the point in only associating with others who appear to be similar in class and dress. This mind set resembles a few girls in Paying for the Party who were not interested in the whole partying and Greek scene and chose to leave their floor or not interact with the girls that only cared about social status. Brooke explained that she “viewed [other girls] behavior as immature and from a position of superiority extricated herself” (116). Not everyone, even if they can fit in socially, chooses to act a certain way because it is expected of their social class. Although some people do conform and care about their presentation, to others it is seen as frivolous and unimportant in the long run.
All of the interviews illustrate that people perceive race and social class very differently based on their background and other factors. At the Trinity College campus it was interesting to see how a small sample of sophomores reacted so differently to questions about race and social class. The books Paying for the Party and Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together? help explain the various reactions of the sophomores. These issues can often be uncomfortable to discuss but thankfully the students were willing to open up for research purposes. It would be easy to assume that all white students felt one way and all non-white students felt another, but in actuality there were some shared feelings and patterns as well as some differences among the students of different races and social backgrounds.
Armstrong, Elizabeth A., and Laura T. Hamilton. Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2013. Print.
Tatum, Beverly Daniel. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? and Other Conversations about Race. New York: Basic, 1997. Print.