I would like to dedicate this essay to one of my heroes, Nelson Mandela. With his passing I was reminded that people do have the power to see the injustice in the world and do something about it.
The first day of college there was an immediate change in my environment, not only the location but also the people surrounding me. Before coming to Trinity College I had lived solely in white Jewish neighborhoods. Although I have lived in five different cities from California to New York including a European country, the people in the neighborhoods and at my private schools were white and Jewish. Very rarely was there any socioeconomic or racial diversity. Even the private high school I attended for a year in New York City was full of white Jewish students. I never really thought about this fact though until about the age of 15 when I started to experience some diversity at summer programs I attended. I really began to think about the impact of living in such a homogeneous culture. Being able to take a class that focused on race and diversity was exciting for me because I had experienced so little racial and socioeconomic diversity in my life. Since the class had to do with the college admission process, which I had recently gone through, it was fascinating not only to see the perspective of the admission teams but also to examine how the process varied according to race and social class.
I was excited to be in classes with non-Jewish students who were from all different backgrounds. This created an interesting class dynamic because there were many different life experiences in the room and therefore many unique perspectives. It made the classroom setting exciting as well as uncomfortable sometimes because there was disagreement over how certain issues should be handled. As the semester progressed, I learned more and more about how race can be such a strong barrier to opportunities in life. When students of color were applying to schools, there was controversy about what the acceptance policy should be. There have been relevant court cases dealing with the acceptance process. For example, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Regents of University of California v. Bakke that schools could not determine whether a student will be accepted based on race, but not all students agreed with this ruling. I knew about these cases but thought most racial issues had been resolved already.
In addition to racial issues there were social class issues to discuss in class. The book Paying for the Party by Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton discussed how socioeconomic differences could affect people’s college experience because of the opportunities they do and do not have. In the book the upper class girls had a much easier time finding friends, partying, and acquiring summer internships, which helped with future job applications. On the other end of the spectrum girls who were lower class struggled with fitting in and doing well academically because they did not have the same preparation and family support as the upper class girls. I do not feel what happened in the book to be as extreme at Trinity College, but after hearing from other students, I saw that social class could be a restricting factor.
Even though there is more diversity at Trinity than all the other schools and communities I have lived in, sadly there is a divide racially and socioeconomically at the school. This was not obvious to me at the beginning of the year, but as class went on and I heard stories from other students, especially about being stopped by campus police because of their skin tone and dress, I began to realize that being in a diverse setting was not everything I had expected. We conducted interviews with the sophomore class and after reading through the transcripts I was able to clearly understand the divide between the social classes and the races. Many students talked about it being difficult to make friends with other students who were not like them. Some interviewees discussed feeling left out because of their skin tone or because they couldn’t afford the same clothing brands as others. This was not the case for all students, but it was still talked about to my dismay. In the seminar we were able to discuss why this happened and write about it giving me even more insight into how others felt.
It was shocking to me that what I felt was a diverse school was not very diverse compared to what many other students had experienced. It made me realize how much of a “bubble” I was in, the “white Jewish private school bubble.” I also never realized how much of a struggle it was for minorities and lower class families. I realized there were problems but not the extent that I learned about in this seminar from other students and the books we read. Everything I learned about in the class has made me more aware of my actions towards others, and I also began to look more at the friendship groups I see around campus. Because of this seminar I realize that there is still much injustice in the college admissions process and life in general, and I hope that I can help change this and learn to take positive action to improve the lives of those less fortunate or stigmatized by their skin color.
Armstrong, Elizabeth A., and Laura T. Hamilton. Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2013. Print.
Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. Supreme Court. 28 June 1978. Print.