Interview Essay

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Interview Essay

              It is no surprise that many see Trinity College as a private institution full of wealthy, white students. However, by taking a closer look at the students populating the campus, one finds a range of socioeconomic statuses and a variety of races and ethnicities. To get a sense of how students of all different races and economic backgrounds perceive the campus, our “Color and Money” seminar interviewed eighteen students from the sophomore class. Among many of the interviews, racial and socioeconomic barriers were themes that arose frequently. First, non-White students were accustomed to people making assumptions about their race and did not react dramatically to different stereotypes, whereas the remaining white students overreacted in situations. A comparable divide was also seen between those in the minority and majority socioeconomic populations at Trinity because of the different assumptions made about one’s social class. Each of these reactions stem from the countless differences in identity development, which theorists such as Beverly Tatum are able to explain.

In “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” Beverly Tatum explains white racial development and black racial development, and explains each phase the respective individual experiences as part of the development. Tatum pieces together ideas from personal experience to paint a clear picture of how white people and black people develop. By analyzing the interviews, it is clear that many of the students at Trinity College are at different phases of identity development.

Similarly, many interviewees noted that groups of different races tend to congregate, which is a concept examined by Stacey Lee in her work, “Unraveling the ‘Model Minority.’” Through careful observations in a prestigious high school, Lee noticed that students segregate by race. By asking students provocative questions, we were also able to notice a divide between different races and social classes. When asked if people have become more aware of social class and race, a majority of the students in the minority, or the non-white students and students receiving financial aid responded yes, and the White students and financial students typically responded no.

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.

By closely examining the interviews, it is clear that non-White people have a greater perception of racial barriers than those students who are white at Trinity College. When analyzed to see if the students recognize racial barriers, seven out of ten of non-white students had an awareness of them, whereas only three out of six white students noticed a divide. One of the students by the pseudonym Luisa admitted that she has definitely become more aware of her race while at Trinity. She tells the interviewer, “I’ve been a lot more conscious of my race and it’s weird I guess because I’ve never felt like a true minority before I came to Trinity” (Luisa 10). She also tells the interviewer that as a freshman, she considered joining the La Voz Latina house on campus, but ultimately decided against it because she believed the group was cliquey. By being on campus for just two years, Luisa already feels a wedge between the different races on campus. Andres, another non-white student, also saw a similar trend in racial barriers, specifically pertaining to La Voz Latina and other on-campus organizations. When asked if he has become more aware of his race, Andres tells the interviewer, “Like with some of the…clubs– like LVL [and] MOCA, they make it their job to have a community for kids when they come to Trinity… 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). Andres, along with other ethnic students, has noticed that Trinity feels obligated to have groups for minority students because Trinity is aware that they may feel excluded. By forming these groups, however, a divide is created between the different ethnicities on campus. Similarly to Lee’s discovery, a majority of the students interviewed noticed that different races segregate themselves from other races. Ten out of fifteen of interviewed students answered yes when asked, “Since coming to Trinity, have you become more aware of your race?” It is clear that many of the non-White students have become more conscious of their race since coming to Trinity, something that the White students have not seemed to notice as much.

Although one may expect that non-White students would react more to seemingly racist acts on campus, our study revealed the opposite.  When asked about assumptions people at Trinity College have made about one’s race, Juan, a non-White student, shared that a certain white student on campus greets him, “hey what’s up brotha” (Juan 4). Juan admitted that he would go along with it, but firmly told the interviewer, “I don’t think that makes him racist though. Cuz for me racism is such a malicious thing… I just feel like he just wanted to fulfill something” (Juan 5). Although one may expect Juan to react aggressively towards this clear act of stereotyping, Juan responded very passively to the situation.

Similarly, when asked about assumptions people have made about his race, Fred, an African American student, told his interviewer that “Campo” has stopped him before. He tells her, “I think people correctly assume that I’m African American. A couple times “Campo” has stopped me because of it … they’ll stop and ask me if I go to school here, questions like that, but it happens rarely” (Fred 23). What many would see as offensive, Fred downplays. Could this be because non-White people have grown accustomed to these offensive stereotypes? Fred is an excellent example of an individual in the internalization stage of racial development described by Tatum. At this point, Tatum asserts that the individual begins to develop a sense of racial pride and security, allowing the individual to establish “meaningful relationships across group boundaries” (Tatum 76). Fred acknowledges that stereotypes have been made and used against him, but is confident in who he is and is able to successfully integrate himself with many different races. Not only did Fred make this occurrence seem insignificant, but Kirsten, an Asian student also downplayed a stereotypical comment made by a comedian.

When Kirsten told the comedian she was from a certain neighborhood, the comedian responded, “oh, you must have money right?” (Kirsten 16). Kirsten continues to tell the interviewer, “he was joking around obviously, but because I was Asian and from [this part of the city] he thought like oh yeah she must have money…but I don’t take offense, I don’t really care about the whole issue, kinda” (Kirsten 16-17).  Again, it is clear that many times students of a minority on campus downplay the stereotypes outwardly stated against them. Ironically, the students of the racial majority tend to act more defensively when he or she feels under attack because of his or her race.

Alice, a white- student who did not receive financial aid upon coming to Trinity, recounts an incident in a certain dining hall. She asked the woman working at the cash register if she could check how many bantam bucks were on her card. The woman checked and responded, “yeah um oh you have 15 dollars left, oh your parents came through for you” (Alice 43). Alice continues on to display her reaction. She states to the interviewer, “I was like first of all I can get you fired for that and second of all that is very rude and making a ton of assumptions about like who I am and what I do and don’t work for…” (Kirsten 43). From a comment some may not even think twice about, Alice grew very angry and defensive that the woman working at the cash register supposedly made such assumptions. Although surprising, it is clear that the students of the majority, in both race and social class react more aggressively towards assumptions made by others.

Similarly to the divide between races, it is clear that there is a barrier between the socioeconomic minority, or those students who receive Financial Aid, and the majority, or those who do not receive Financial Aid at Trinity College. It is clear that the minority has become more mindful of their social class ever since coming to Trinity. This differs from the somewhat split responses of becoming more conscious of race at Trinity for both non-white and white students. When asked if he/she has become more aware of one’s respective social class upon coming to Trinity, eight out of eight students on Financial Aid answered that they have become more conscious. Contrary to this statistic, only about half of the students who do not receive Financial Aid have become more aware of their respective social class. Looking at these statistics, it is clear that social class tends to be an area of judgment by students at Trinity College. Many of the students on Financial Aid responded to the question, “has social class been a factor in your daily interactions?” and “what assumptions, if any, have people at Trinity made—correctly or incorrectly—about your social class” by describing the clothes one wears and how this plays a large role in determining a person’s social class. Abe, a student on Financial Aid, describes to the interviewer that, “I usually dress up really nice so people think that I am from the upper level. You can tell like that they think that I am wealthy, which I’m not because of the way I dress…I feel like at Trinity people judge you by the way you dress more than anything” (Abe 45). Abe is not the only student who feels as though the clothes one wears has a big effect on how one’s social class is perceived. Juan, another student who receives Financial Aid from the college describes to his interviewer how “I’ve seen poor people who are of lesser means who are really good looking climb way up the popular ladder at Trinity just because they look good” (Juan 5). On the other hand, the students who do not receive Financial Aid tend to avoid admitting any assumptions made about social class.

When asked the assumptions people at Trinity have made pertaining to social class, Jim, a student who does not receive financial aid responded, “…I mean not much…I mean I never really talked about it…I really I truly can’t know…I…I’m not worried about any [assumptions] that people have made about my social class….” (Jim 27). Jim is not the only student who avoided talking about any assumptions made. Luisa, another student who does not receive financial aid, responded, “uhm, I don’t know, I don’t think people make like outwardly assumptions…I don’t know I feel like people just make like assumptions but like don’t they don’t like outwardly say them…” (Luisa 8). Both Jim and Luisa, and other students who are in the socioeconomic majority avoided delving into detail of assumptions made about social class at Trinity, whereas the students who are on Financial Aid shared many observations that he or she has seen at the College. Those who are on Financial Aid are clearly more open about perceptions made at Trinity pertaining to social class, contrasting those who are not Financial Aid who do not openly admit to perceptions made. Because of the difference of observations between the various social classes at Trinity, a divide is drawn between those on Financial Aid and those who are not.

By carefully analyzing the interviews conducted it is clear that there are certain stereotypes that students have about other students at Trinity, whether pertaining to social class or race. Through the interviews, one can clearly see that students of the majority and minority of socioeconomic status and race pick up on these stereotypes, however, the reaction of the two groups is different. The white students and those not receiving financial aid tended to overreact when exposed to stereotypes against them but tended to avoid admitting that they have any stereotypes themselves. The non-White students and those receiving financial aid, on the other hand, tended to react less aggressively towards the stereotypes and openly talked about perceptions that he or she had witnessed. The interviews highlighted many existing discrepancies in the student body that bring to light certain stereotypes and an evident divide on the campus.

Works Cited

Lee, Stacey J. Unraveling the “Model Minority” Stereotype: Listening to Asian American Youth. New York: Teachers College, 1996. Print.

Tatum, Beverly Daniel. “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” New York: Basic, 2003. Print.