Final: Reflective Essay

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Briana Miller

The Power of Knowledge

Everyone becomes socially and racially conscious at different times in their life. For me, race and social class did not become incredibly apparent until I moved from Madison, WI to Chicago, IL. Navigating a failing school system in my hometown Chicago after spending many years in well-resourced Madison opened my eyes to the many inequalities and limitations that come along with belonging to a specific ethnicity or coming from a particular financial background. When I entered Trinity College, my awareness was only strengthened: almost everything I see and experience is tied to my racial and social status. What I am proud of, despite the many challenges I have faced because of my place in the social hierarchy, is that I have gained a lot of knowledge on why things are the way they are and how I can better my own experience here on campus. I have not completely mastered patience and understanding, but these traits have improved since participating in the Color and Money seminar. The readings and sophomore interviews were particularly refreshing and humbling for me. What I have learned so far has encouraged me to appreciate all of the hardships I have encountered for what they are: learning and growing experiences.

In her book, Beverly Tatum includes an excerpt relaying a conversation between her and a white woman on the issue of racism. “Oh, is there still racism,” the white woman asks. When I first read this line I was completely taken aback. The answer to her question, to me, seemed obvious. Little did I know it foreshadowed a discussion I would soon have with a group of students in my anthropology course. We were debating whether or not logos such as that of the Cleveland Indians were offensive. Most of the majority white class said no to the question while most non-white students said yes.   One student claimed that racism had ended when Barack Obama had become president. Another defended his non-racist background by informing the class on how his high school celebrated black history month each year. I sat in complete awe as I listened to the comments. Never had the oblivion of racism seemed as real as it did at that moment. I couldn’t help but to continuously raise my hand throughout the discussion. As I stated my contrasting thoughts and beliefs on how racism was still embedded in society I felt the tension in the room thicken. While Tatum made many points in her novel I was able to relate to, she constantly reiterated how there is no particular group of people or person to blame for the perpetuating cycle of racism. With that in mind, I consciously listened to my offended peers reply back to my statements. I did not take their comments personally, nor did I blame them for their point of views. Everybody’s outlook on life is influenced by the circumstances they were dealt and grew up in. It was apparent by the comments made that a lot of the students had not been exposed to variety of point of views on the issue of racism. It was also obvious that many of the white students were very conscious of the comments they made, for they feared being viewed as racist. Reading Tatum’s book allowed me to gain insight on how issues of race and racial identity manifest within society while also reminding me that the goal is not to find who’s to blame, but to seek solutions on how to improve the problem instead.

After evaluating the data received through the Trinity College interviews in our seminar, I became more aware of why particular people on campus were not as accepting of me. I made the conscious decision some years ago to wear my hair in its natural, kinky state and to also wear as many afro-centric garbs as I could on a daily basis. I was used to receive quizzical stares in Chicago, as my bold style caught a lot of people off guard. Here, however, I’ve experienced outright looks of disapproval and, in some cases, disgust.  Yvonne, one of the interviewees noted how she experienced different reactions from people depending on how she dressed. As an African American, lower middle class female she said that “If I’m wearing something…that does not look name brand and put together… people are less likely to [hold] doors open for me, people are less likely to speak to me like in a crowd of people, people are less likely to acknowledge me whereas otherwise they would” (Interview Transcripts, 19). I realized that this applied to me as well. I am personally far less concerned with portraying a certain social class through my clothing than I am with expressing my culture. Once I learned that I was likely being ignored or glared at for materialistic reasons, I became less offended by how others treated me. Not everybody judges me on the clothes I wear or the way I style my hair, and I tend to focus more on those individuals now than to invest energy in greeting or meeting those who do. Sometimes people take to my style and personality, other times they don’t. Now that I’ve been on this campus for a few months, I don’t really pay attention to how others view me, so long as I am portraying the best me I can. The more aware I have become in our seminar of how prevalent color and money is in the nation, the less I find myself complying with the rules and expectations of me. The more I become informed, the less I feel the need to “fit in”, and I love that.

This semester has taught me quite a bit about myself and how I differ from others. Race and social class are both factors that play a large roll on this campus and because I am a minority and come from a lower social class, my experiences and interactions with others can be both uncomfortable and frustrating. Lucky for me though, I was able to emerge out of my Trinity culture shock by gaining more knowledge on “color and money”. With time will surely come more wisdom, and I am glad I had the chance to kick start my learning in a seminar as eye opening as this one.


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

Trinity College Interviews. Color and Money Seminar. 2013



Interview Essay

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1) Does the author present a clear and focused argument or thesis statement in the introduction?  Does it respond to the assignment?

2) Is the author’s reasoning persuasive and well developed?  Are the claims supported with appropriate evidence?  Are counter-arguments fully considered?

3) Is the essay well organized with smooth transitions between focused paragraphs? Does it include sufficient background for audiences unfamiliar with the topic?

4) Does the author choose precise and meaningful wording, with fluent syntax and correct grammar and spelling?

5) Does the author cite sources in a standard academic format (or, if applicable, in the format designated by the instructor) so that readers may easily locate them?

6) Does the essay inspire the reader to think about the topic in a new way?

Briana Miller

Color and Money

Prof. Jack Dougherty

November 20, 2013

Race and Social Class at Trinity College


Throughout the semester, our seminar read a number of books addressing the significance of racial identity and social class in America. After interviewing a number of sophomores on the issues, we found that most factors of racial and social status on Trinity campus offer patterns that generally disprove the theories proposed by Beverly Tatum and Stacey Lee. There are some cases that do fall in line with their theses; however, the survey taken presents an alternative reality for white and non white students on the Trinity campus.

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.

Earlier in the semester, we read Beverly Tatum’s Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? and Stacey Lee’s Unraveling the ‘Model Minority’ Stereotype. These two books emphasize the effects of racial identity and the way different racial groups interact with one another. Social class serves as a subtopic in their theories as well.

Though she focuses on the cause and effects of racial and social aspects on Asian American adolescents, Lee’s ideas can easily apply to people of any ethnicity. Her ethnography concludes the following in regard to racial identity development: “students… judge their situations by comparing their social positions to that of whites [and] nonwhite minorities…” (121). In Lee’s study the most of the Asian American youth were highly conscious of the way in which they were compared to Whites—the dominant group in their school; not only in academics but appearance as well. Measuring up to White expectations and behavior in this ethnography was a major goal among Asians regardless of their social status. As mentioned previously, these ideas naturally apply to non-Asians as well. In fact, the Trinity College interviews exhibit an opposing perspective on the connection between race, social status, and the individuals’ consciousness of their self-presentation. Statistics show that seven out of nine non-financial aid students were more concerned with self-presentation than not. Of these seven students, five were white while only two were non-white (Thematic Analysis 2013). This data proposes that, depending on the environment, the dominant group is more conscious of how they carry themselves. I found this data very shocking considering I experienced various situations that supported Lee’s theory within the minority community. Nonetheless, it  is very possible that, through physical appearance, both the dominant and minority groups work to portray a certain social status to both their own racial groups as well as others.


Yvonne attests to this claim. She shares how the clothes she wears influences the way people treat her. She made the following remark:

I noticed last year um sometimes how I dress or what I look like for that day it determined who spoke or who didn’t, who held doors open or who didn’t, (…) when I when like when my hair is nice and when I am dress fully um people hold doors open for me, people say hi when I smile at them down the long walk . or people just speak even if they only see me like ifwe see each other often but we’ve never been formally introduced, people speak, they smile or they wave. If I like if my hair is not done or if I’m wearing sweatpants and uggs or something like that um something that does not look name brand and put together people, people are less likely to held doors open for me, people are less likely to speak to me like in a crowd of people, people are less likely to acknowledge me whereas otherwise they would” (Trinity Interviews, 19).

Considering the heightened respect one receives when dressing the part of a well-off individual, it makes sense that individuals from affluent backgrounds are more invested in self appearance. In order to associate with the dominant group—and because they can afford it, students of high social status are more likely to be conscious of their self appearance.  There is no evidence present in the interviews that suggests people of lower social standing allow attire to influence who they interact with.


In her novel, Tatum mentions how “racelessness” is sometimes a coping mechanism for some kids of color who are trying to avoid being singled out racially or socially. She writes “individuals assimilate into the dominant group by de-emphasizing characteristics that might identify them as members of the subordinate group” (Tatum, 63). This particular theory correlates with some of the results produced by the interviews. Though it may not be outwardly suggested, our interviews show that there are, in fact, circumstances where individuals battled with embracing their own racial and ethnic identity, or adopting that of the dominant group. Interviewee Victoria, for example, does not explicitly reveal what her racial identity is when asked during the interview. She, instead, discusses how her peers often mistake her Asian American ethnicity for that of a mixed (White and Asian) or fully Caucasian person. “People have often come to me saying that I’m more identifiable as white. Just on my behavior and my upbringing” (Interview, 25). She also notes how her White, adoptive parents were skeptical of whether or not she should reveal her Asian identity when applying to schools. “…my parents were, I don’t know, I don’t know if they were concerned about it or if they didn’t want me to. But they did express an interest that I leave it, myself, unidentified. I thought that, you know…with a very quote unquote ‘white name’…I wanted to represent who I was better…I identified myself as Asian” (Interview, 25). It was also noted that Victoria’s voice grew quieter when admitting to her interviewer how she identified herself on her college applications despite her parents’ thoughts.  While Victoria obviously struggles with going against her parents’ opinion, it is apparent that she recognizes the advantage of identifying herself as White. More people (specifically of the dominant group) accept her, and even justify why she is more white than Asian—as if that is something she should embrace. Like Yvonne, Victoria is one of a few interviewees who is not completely adverse to their true social or racial identity, for the sake of being accepted by the dominant group on campus.

In addition to recognizing that racelessness does exist at Trinity, the interviews reveal that racial and social barriers do as well. When reporting the level of racial barriers they felt are present at the school, 6 out of 7 non white, financial aid students felt that racial barriers were high. Similarly both of the white, financial aid recipients interviewed felt that racial barriers were present as well. When white, non financial aid students were asked the question, however, only 2 out of 5 students felt they were high. Interestingly, only 1 out of 3 non white, non financial aid students identify racial barriers as being high (Thematic Analysis Spreadsheet). Before receiving the data on the two white, financial aid students, one might conclude that the racial barriers could only be recognized by the minority students. However, these studies suggest that the prevalence of racial barriers might not be explicitly recognizable within certain racial groups, but social classes instead. In Tatum’s ethnography, she suggests that white people in the “contact” stage of the racial identity development “pay little attention to the significance of their racial identity” (95). However, our interviews suggest that their social class might influence the racial barriers individuals feel are present on campus.

The results produced during the interview process were a complete success. They provided unexpected and interesting data that, surprisingly, contrasted from the theories our seminar studied this semester. This just goes to show that there are always exceptions—even for highly respectable and persuasive theories.

Lee, Stacey J.. Unraveling the “model minority” stereotype: listening to Asian American youth. New York: Teachers College Press, 1996. Print.

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

Thematic Analysis Spreadsheet. Color and Money Seminar. 2013


Trinity College Interviews. Color and Money Seminar. 2013

Kahn in “Skin Deep”

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From the short film “Skin Deep”, I analyzed Kahn. I believe Beverly Tatum, Ph.D would categorize Asian American Kahn as being in the immersion/emersion stage of his life (Tatum, 76). In the film, Kahn stated the following: “White people are very affected by internalized racism just as much as people of color are…growing up in this society I was taught to hate myself and I did hate myself, and I’m trying to deal with it. If you’re a white person you’ve got to know…you were taught to think you’re better because you’re white…” (“Skin Deep”). Tatum might conclude that Kahn is in the third stage because he stated that he “did” hate himself and is “trying to deal with it”–suggesting that he is now concentrating on developing a better self image.

Tatum suggests that “in many ways, the person at [this stage] is unlearning the internalized stereotypes about his or her own group and is redefining a positive sense of self…This is not to say that anger is totally absent, but that the focus…is on self discovery rather than on White people” (76).

Don explaining how internalized racism affects both him and Whites. Time: 26:13
Kahn explaining how internalized racism affects both him and Whites.
Time: 26:13

The tone of his voice throughout the entire excerpt suggests that there is still some resentment and, possibly, feelings of anger lingering within him. However, Kahn is obviously progressing out of that angry place, and embracing the immersion/emersion stage.

Daniel Tatum, Beverly, PH.D. “Chapter 5.” Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? New York: Basic, 1999. 76. Print.

Skin Deep. Dir. Francis Reid. Perf. Mark M., Bryan A, and Don J. Berkeley, CA : Iris Films, ©1995., 1995. Videocassette.


Persuasive Essay

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1) Does the author present a clear and focused argument or thesis statement in the introduction?  Does it respond to the assignment? 2) Is the author’s reasoning persuasive and well developed?  Are the claims supported with appropriate evidence?  Are counter-arguments fully considered?

Briana Miller

This essay was assigned to be written from the perspective of class matters advocate, and does not necessarily represent the views of the author.

“College is the key to success” is a term that is all too familiar in American society. The belief that one can shape and mold their future by attaining a college degree—regardless of their socioeconomic background—has served as defense to the American ideology of liberty and equal opportunity amongst all. The presumption that a student can easily go from low social status to an elite college campus—through impressive academic achievement, of course—is thought to be true as well. Studies have shown, however, that highly affluent families continue to disproportionately represent the graduating classes of top colleges. In fact, no more than five percent of the least privileged applicants contribute to these elite communities (Weismann, 1).


While social class may not be used purposefully or directly as criteria during the admissions process at elite institutions, it certainly does account for many aspects that make up one’s application. Consequently, social class serves as a dividing factor for those who are admitted and denied to highly ranked institutions. We as the admissions committee at The College subliminally developed a system that included categories favoring affluent children. Perhaps if we created a strategy that evaluated applicants in a fashion similar to Steven’s College, we would have had a more legal process that allowed for more socioeconomic diversity within the admitted class.


Jean Lattimore was an applicant who had decent grades, a long list of extracurricular activities, and sincere recommendations testifying his great work ethic. In one of his letters of recommendation his counselor mentioned how “he stands at the top of his graduating class of 45 peers. Although our district cannot afford to offer as wide a variety of courses as some other schools, Jean has applied himself and made the best of every available opportunity.” Additionally, she noted how Jean had taken a calculus class at the local technical college—proving that he was ready for college level academics despite his school’s lack of resources (Jean Lattimore, Simulation Applicant Files, Color & Money seminar at Trinity College, Fall 2013, Unfortunately, two factors brought Jean’s overall rating down: our system’s “academics” and “legacy” categories. The College decided that it was necessary that he’d be given a lower academic score for his inability to take challenging courses—although this circumstance was out of his control. Furthermore, Jean had no family history (of attendance) at The College which allotted him no additional points to boost his rating in the legacy category. In the end, Jean was denied admission.

In Stevens’ ethnography, he mentioned that his college used the percentage of graduates that went directly to a four-year college from a high school as a way to predict the quality of courses offered at that particular school. At less affluent high schools, students who excelled, despite an adequate curriculum, were still awarded good academic scores (Stevens, 193). If The College had taken this approach, it is possible that Jean may have had a fighting chance of being admitted.

A student who was in the complete opposite situation of Jean was Caitlin Quinn. Caitlin was considered a shoo-in student: her GPA, test scores, and list of extracurricular activities were all solid; not to mention that her family could afford full tuition. On top of the very high scores Caitlin received in the academics and “extracurricular activity” categories, the admissions system also granted her one additional point for having a family legacy at The College (Caitlin Quinn, Simulation Applicant Files, Color & Money seminar at Trinity College, Fall 2013,

In the Supreme Court case Regents of California v. Bakke, it was ruled that it was unconstitutional for race to be used as an advantage in the college admissions process (Regents, 1). As a result, our admissions committee was very conscious about not granting minority students additional points because of their race. Ironically enough, however, The College was in favor of creating a category that specifically awarded an additional point to legacy students. The outcome of this, although we were attempting to provide an equal educational opportunity for all applicants, is an illegal advantage to those of more affluent families, for they have far higher legacy rates than lower class applicants. Just as students do not receive admission advantages because of the color of their skin, shouldn’t students also receive no advantages for familial connections they have at The College? Unfortunately enough, this issue of inequality was completely overlooked by the committee.

Benjamin Rosen, yet another applicant, was a bit of an interesting story during the simulation. Although he attained a relatively low GPA and missed two interviews with college admissions people, The College highly considered admitting him. Thinking that Benjamin was deemed a legacy student because his father is employed by The College, the admissions committee was very hesitant about dropping his file. Once it was clarified that he was not a legacy student, however, his application was unanimously declined admission (Class Lecture).

Stevens mentioned the history of legacy in his study. He notes that “throughout the nineteenth century, educational systems had been local affairs. Colleges competed with other schools in their own cities and regions for the patronage of prominent local families; the degree to which any one school was able to corner the market on local patronage defined the limits of its institutional prestige” (Stevens, 34-5). The “prestige” Stevens referred to coincides with wealth as well (i.e. social status). Without being conscious of this, the admissions team continued the tradition of social class legacy—just as many generations before them had; just as they had used it for their own college applications. The benefit to using high social status as a determining factor in the admissions process is the amount of money The College continuously receives from the affluent families applying. Nonetheless, this issue of legacy, which was a long time contribution to the exclusiveness of elite institutions, is still obviously, a part of the imbalanced admissions system today.

Situations such as the ones that occurred with Jean, Caitlin, and Benjamin lead me to believe that the admissions team did not fully weigh the pros and cons of their applications with regard to their social statuses. The intertwinement of wealth and elite college achievement is a complicated process to undo. It will require the committee to evaluate the students’ socioeconomic status, the kind of high schools the students attended and, in turn, how these two things affect the make-up of each individual application. It is not enough to have a broad category that simplistically labels applicants qualified or underprepared in regard to their course loads(for as we have seen, not all applicants have access to preparatory resources), nor can we defend the decision to add a category that defends students of legacy families and, in turn, high social status. If The College genuinely wishes to increase the amount of socioeconomic diversity amongst its student body, it must be open to the different social classes and academic background students come from. Otherwise, no change will come.


Benjamin Rosen, Simulation Applicant Files, Color & Money seminar at Trinity College, Fall 2013,

Caitlin Quinn, Simulation Applicant Files, Color & Money seminar at Trinity College, Fall 2013,

Class Lecture, Color & Money seminar at Trinity College, Fall 2013.

Jean Lattimore, Simulation Applicant Files, Color & Money seminar at Trinity College, Fall 2013,

Regents of University of California v. Bakke (1978). Supreme Court. Dec. 2006. Print.

Stevens, Mitchell. Creating a Class: College Admissions and the Education of Elites. First Harvard University Press, 2009. Print.

Weismann, Jordan. “America’s Top Colleges Have a Rich-Kid Problem.” The Atlantic. 24 May 2013.