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?
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