Color and Money From the Eyes of the Class of 2016
The perceptions and divides based on social class and race at Trinity College are a very relevant topic. In our seminar, Color and Money, we have done a number of exercises and readings to be able to more properly understand these issues. Most recently, we interviewed a group of sophomores regarding these topics. From these interviews, I was able to identify a few fascinating trends of student perception of race and social class at our college. Additionally, a few readings from our seminar, namely works by Hamilton and Armstrong, and Beverly Tatum, allow us to pinpoint our interviewees’ differences in recognition of relative familial wealth, and blatant understating of the significance of race 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.
The most striking trend that I found was that students on financial aid were significantly more likely to have an understanding of their familial wealth than those not on financial aid. I was able to determine this by reading each interview thoroughly and searching for any statements that each individual made that would contradict their answering of the question “How would you describe your social class?”. For example, one individual, Juan, stated that in terms of socio-economic status, he was “right in the middle”, but that his parents made “a little over $100,000” a year (Juan, p.4). Considering the average household income in the US was around $50,000 in 2011, we would consider this individual to have poor recognition of relative familial wealth. Individuals who stated nothing that could potentially contradict their response to the above question were considered to have recognition of their family’s wealth. Statistically, I found that 9 out of 10 students on financial aid had seemingly good knowledge of their family’s wealth, while only 4 out of 8 students not on financial aid appeared to have this same knowledge. This suggests that wealthy students are more likely to be unaware of their relative wealth than socio-economically less fortunate students. Hamilton and Armstrong offer some evidence as to why this may be. Their book, Paying For the Party, offers an in-depth look as to how socio-economic status can affect collegiate success. The authors state, “…the college experience systematically disadvantages all but the most affluent — and even some of these students.” (Hamilton & Armstrong, p. 3). This quote appears to be significantly more relevant to less affluent students than those of a higher class. Additionally, this systematic disadvantage that college creates could lead those who come from lower income backgrounds to be more aware of their social class than those who don’t, as it could have a potentially dangerous effect on their college and post-graduate success. For example, a wealthy student’s actions may be unchanged given the above knowledge, as whatever college path they decide to take they will be advantaged in greatly. However, for lower income students, knowledge like this may make them act in a different way, and therefore they would find this information valuable. The fact that this information has a greater impact on the lives of lower income students could explain why in our study they had greater knowledge of their individual socio-economic status. Also, it appears that a student’s time at Trinity could skew their own perceptions of social class, which could also be attributed to social and structural inequalities that are also described in Hamilton and Armstrongs’ book. One student even went as far as stating his social class in “terms of trinity” (Jim, p. 27). This, however appeared to have a greater effect on those of the higher classes than on those of the lower classes. This could be accredited to the fact that it would feel better for those not on financial aid to compare their own wealth to the average wealth at Trinity, as they would be around the average level, than those who were on financial aid who would more than likely be comparatively very poor and thus would seek out their actual national socio-economic status. These findings, interestingly enough, seem to be pretty unaffected by race. From the same sample, 7 out of 10 non-white students appeared aware of their socioeconomic status, and 6 out of 8 white students seemed aware. This shows the power that socioeconomic status can have on perceptions and awareness of worldly surroundings. Students appear to be far more likely to understand their relative wealth if they come from a less wealthy background regardless of race. The collegiate system and familial wealth appear to have a major effect on how an individual’s own wealth is perceived.
The second significant trend I noticed was that in most instances, both students of color and white students seemed to voice that race and separation by race are not particularly prominent problems at Trinity College. Trinity is a school with a history of racism and segregation; therefore this lack of recognition for these problems is surprising. Even recently, a Trinity student published an article discussing the extent of these issues at the college: “One of the most prevalent problems on this campus is racism, which has plagued this campus since its inception in 1823” (Real Hartford). However, when students were asked about the impacts that race has had on their daily lives at Trinity College, and their change of awareness of their race since coming to Trinity, their tone often became more passive, and they seemed to approach the questions as if they weren’t significant. For example, one student interviewed, Andres, stated, “race most likely is a dividing factor in some respects” (Andres, p.13). The depth and significance of the way this is phrased is overwhelming. Andres goes on to say that he sees people sticking together that are of the same race, so his choice in wording definitely shows that he is underplaying the significance of the subject. He doesn’t state it in certainty, although he knows it to be true, and he states that it may only be relevant in some respects in an attempt to lessen its implications. Andres and many other students could’ve selected this sort of tone and phrasing for a number of reasons. Beverly Tatum’s Racial Identity Development Theory helps us to better understand why this may be. Tatum’s theory describes a specific set of stages for Racial Identity Development for Whites, and another separate group of stages for Blacks. Since, there is no specific set of stages for other minorities like Hispanics and Asian’s, we must assume that their path would be more similar to Black’s, as they both too would experience the racism and hardships that comes with being a minority. For the Black side of Racial Identity development, there are two stages that could potentially yield the results of understating the significance of race like Andres and many other Non-Whites did. The immersion/emmersion stage where Blacks see “White people as simply irrelevant”(Tatum, p. 76), and the Internalization stage, where Blacks develop a positive sense of self can help to explain this (Tatum, p.76). If an individual were in the immersion/emmersion stage, he or she might feel that white people and their racism simply didn’t matter and therefore may downplay any racism seen or experienced, in their interview. Similarly if an individual were in the internalization stage, they may be so comfortable with themselves they may see the racism as insignificant and not discuss it. On the other side of the spectrum, White’s similarly downplayed the significance of race. Serafino, for example, stated that he “doesn’t think it has that much of an influence”, and people simply “gravitate toward people of their own background or ethnicity” (Serafino, P. 34). Serafino made no attempt to acknowledge the racism and separation that is prominent at the school. For Whites, these kinds of reactions may be explained by two stages: the disintegration stage and the pseudo-independent stage. In the disintegration stage an individual may “reject and ignore racism on a personal level” (Tatum, p. 96). In the Pseudo-independent stage, an individual may feel guilty for his or her own racial identity (Tatum, p.106). If a white person were in the disintegration stage they may simply ignore the racism they see, and if they were in the Pseudo-independent stage they may simply feel to guilty to acknowledge the racism. Tatum’s theory allows us to understand this phenomenon of lack of acknowledgment For all this evidence, however, it must be considered that an individual may just not want to talk about a controversial subject due to the fact that it may be awkward and taboo. However, the patterns in verbiage that are consistent with many interviewees’ make it appear likely that it is more related to their own perceptions of race. In conclusion, if a white person were in the disintegration stage they may simply ignore the racism they see, and if they were in the Pseudo-independent stage they may simply feel to guilty to acknowledge the racism. Tatum’s theory allows us to understand this phenomenon of lack of acknowledgment for racism at Trinity College.
The overwhelming relevance of findings like these is undeniable. We are living in a time where the American Dream is being questioned, and social change is being called for around it. Patterns like the ones presented in this essay allow us to gauge the impact of heated issues like race and social class and provide some insight as to what fuels these problems. It is important to note however that a sample of only 18 interviewees is not nearly enough to infer any of our findings on the entire student body at Trinity. This should simply be a means to raise awareness as to the potential of some of these issues.
The trends and patterns seen in this group of interviews were striking and fascinating. They show us the impact that various factors can have in our own views and actions regarding race and class. It’s important to gauge and understand these patterns, as they can have a great impact on how we live our own lives. They allow us to see the factors that can cause good social understanding and social action and can potentially influence the choices we make and the societal truths that we wish to acknowledge.
Tatum, Beverly Daniel. “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”: And Other Conversations About Race. New York: BasicBooks, 1999. Print.
Armstrong, Elizabeth A, and Laura T Hamilton. Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality. N. p., 2013. Print.
US Census Bureau, Data Integration Division. “Income.” N. p., n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2013
Provost, Kerri. “Real Hartford » Trinity Student Offers Suggestions for Bridging Town-Gown Chasm.” Real Hartford RSS. Real Hartford, 26 Nov. 2013. Web. 04 Dec. 2013.