Reflective Change Essay

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My expectations for my first semester at Trinity were relatively typical: class, homework, parties, and new friendships. I arrived having chosen the two kids I was to live with but beyond that aspect, the social scene, classes and what daily life in general would be like were a complete mystery. I entered Trinity with the mindset, as illustrated by Tatum, of many white students who had little exposure to people who were of different races and socioeconomic classes – unaware of the impacts of race and economic standing, and assuming that there would be ample racial equality and interaction.[1] My background is likely why I was unable to see the pretentious nature of many Trinity students that, as I have come to realize, alienates students who are not of significant means. I am from a predominately white, wealthy area and attended boarding school, which only exposed me to kids of even higher financial standing than those that kids would interact with at most public and even private day schools. As a result, I was blind to the pretentiousness so abundant on Trinity’s campus, as well as the prevalence of racial segregation.

The first class that I attended in my college career was our seminar. I walked through the threshold of the classroom believing that we would be discussing the effects of color and money solely in regard to the college admissions process and possibly some of its effects on society as a whole; my expectations, however, were completely false. After only a few short weeks, our seminar began to illustrate the depths to which race and social class penetrate life, even on Trinity’s campus.

The first activities that actually forced me to realize the gravity of the role race can play in a person’s life were the debates we conducted when we decided whom to admit to “The College.” Sometimes in order to influence one’s opinion, they must experience what is being discussed. In the initial stages of the activity, I was still in the mindset that, while race and financial standing certainly played a roll in who was admitted to institutions of higher education, college admission was primarily a meritocracy. But, after leaving class having completed “Decision Day” I was left pondering how crucial the factors discussed by Stevens in Creating a Class are. We had held discussions and other students had given examples of their applicability on Trinity’s campus, but having to assume the mindset of an admissions officer attempting to create a truly diverse freshman class, and having to decide between applicants based on their ethnicity or whether we could afford to admit them to “The College” put the effects of race and socioeconomic status in a position where I could truly understand them. I began to realize disadvantages that students considered to be “minorities” or who were unable to pay for college were faced with.

Although my eyes had begun to be opened to the issues that we discussed in class, what truly started a change in my way of thinking was when we discussed whether college was still the gateway to success. Part of the “American Dream” was attending college so one could then get a good job and live a financially stable and therefore happy life. However, one key point was brought up that jolted this traditional American thought process and changed my outlook on the stratification of wealth and success in the United States: the poverty cycle. Our seminar illustrated how those in the lower socioeconomic classes, especially minorities, were denied access to respectable education, guidance through the college process and programs like SAT tutoring that advantage mainly white upper-middle and upper class students. It was because of this, we determined, that many minorities and those hailing from areas of low economic status were often unable to even graduate from high school, much less attend college or realize the success illustrated in the stereotypical “American Dream.”

Perhaps the most lasting effect to my way of thinking is my newfound ability to notice the small things that many minority students mention as being issues at Trinity. I believe this probably stems from our readings by Tatum, Lee, Armstrong and Hamilton. Initially the theories discussed in their books were slightly confusing, but after clarification in class, I was actually able to identify them while walking around campus. The most interesting point brought up from our readings was how many white students are blind to the effects of racism and social class.[2] I began to understand that terms such as “local” that I had previously seen as mere descriptions also carried a deeper racial meaning behind them. However, out of all our readings the one that I found most beneficial – specifically regarding applicability on Trinity’s campus – was Paying for the Party. Although the book centers on how women of different financial backgrounds take different paths through college, I found that their theories could extend to people of all ethnicities and genders. As we had discussed in class, I noticed the segregation of where students in Mather, but I never had questioned how that might affect one’s path through college. Assuming that students sit with their friends and therefore those are same people that they would “go out” with on the weekends, study and just casually hang out with, I realized that Armstrong and Hamilton’s discoveries have deep social implications that are extremely applicable at Trinity.[3]

My favorite activity that we engaged in, and the one that I think most influenced my way of thinking, were the peer interviews. It is one thing to notice topics discussed in class around campus and hear issues brought to light by peers in seminar discussions; but hearing those same issues brought to light by other students, completely out of context and unaware of what we have learned in our seminar, brought a much stronger meaning to what we had been discussing in our seminar. As I read through the interview transcriptions I was subconsciously identifying patterns and relating responses to theories we had learned about in our readings. After completing the interview essay I sat and thought about how prevalent everything we had studied and discussed actually was on my college campus. I think I had actually, finally realized just how significant a person’s race and social class influences their entire lives. It effects college prospects, college social life, friends, job prospects and considerably more.

Having experienced my first semester of college and life at Trinity I feel that my way of thinking has certainly been changed by our seminar. I am no longer oblivious to the pretentious environment that seems to have permeated all aspects of life at Trinity, or the barriers that make not only just attaining a college education, but one’s social life at college more difficult for those of lower socioeconomic standing or those or who are considered “minorities.” This seminar has also sparked a personal interest in examining the social affects of wealth stratification on Trinity’s campus, a topic that I would certainly be interested in studying in more depth in the future. I found that the seminar’s open discussion platform, with our professor and student advisor steering the conversation in the proper direction, made it considerably easier to grasp concepts than in my other lecture based classes. In conclusion, I have actually been a true beneficiary of what we learned in this seminar. As it has displayed to me the considerable effects of racial and socioeconomic status on students both in the United States today and at Trinity, opened my eyes to issues at Trinity that I had previously been unable to see, and exposed me to an entirely new method of thinking.

[1] Tatum, Beverly Daniel. Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria? and other conversations about race. New York: BasicBooks, 1997.

[2] Tatum, Beverly Daniel. Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria? and other conversations about race. New York: BasicBooks, 1997.

[3] Armstrong, Elizabeth A., and Laura T. Hamilton. Paying for the party: how college maintains inequality. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013.