Color and Money
Race in Relation to Trinity
When asked if they had become more aware of his race on Trinity’s campus, Juan, a non-white sophomore student at Trinity, exclaimed “Yes I have!” (Juan, 4). This view on race at Trinity was common in the answers given by non-white students. In the ten non-white students that were interviewed about race, seven out ten acknowledged the existence of racial barriers on Trinity’s campus. This was contrasted by only five out of eight white students acknowledging the color barriers at Trinity. While not a huge separation, this difference in percentages of acknowledge the points to two main problems on Trinity’s campus. One that there are color barrier on this campus, and they are prevalent in many ways on this campus. Second is that there is a lack of communication between the different races on the existence of these barriers. These barriers existing on campus hinder the student life at Trinity and create a lack of understanding and perspective on Trinity’s 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 any personally identifiable details have been masked, in accordance with our research ethics confidentiality agreement approved by the Trinity College Institutional Review Board.
Similar divisions in race were found in Stacey Lee’s book Unraveling the “Model Minority” Stereotype. In the book Lee spends a year at a private school examining the racial dynamics within the student community. In her studies Lee find that the students in the school hung out only in their racial groups and rarely broke out of the behavior patterns set by their racial groups. The only major example of intermingling of the races was between the Koreans and the White. This was because Lee found that often times Korean parents were encouraging the other students to embrace the “American Way” (Lee, 33). This meant that Korean students would often times try to associate themselves with the white students in the school. However, this did not mean that the White students responded to these advances. When interviewing White students Lee find that many still can not even tell the “difference between Koreans and the other Asians” (Lee, 28).
Examples of this racial division at Trinity is seen in various ways through reading the interviews of the students. The major example of this that came up the most in the interviews was the division of the races in the Mather Dining Hall. The interviewees brought up how the divisions at Mather dining hall are visible by where different races sit. Kirsten, a Trinity Sophomore, described how at Mather she feels that race really “dictates where you sit” (Kirsten, 18). Kirsten was not the only interviewee that brought up Mather Hall as an example of racial division at Trinity. Out of the ten non-white students interviewed, five specifically brought up eating at Mather as an example of racial division here at Trinity. Eating at Mather is a universal social experience all students here at Trinity take part in, they tend to eat with the group of people they tend to socialize with. Therefore, it can be said that Mather Hall can serve as a microcosim for the social dynamic at Trinity College. By seeing the division in Mather dining hall between the races, it can be infered that in general there are social divisions between the races here at Trinity. What becomes of this division is that the experiences of others are kept in the dark and interracial communication becomes non-existent between the students.
Another parallel that can be found between the school in Lee’s book and here at Trinity is the existence of what Lee describes as the idea of the “model minority”. The idea behind the model minority originates back to a New York Times article written in 1966 about the Asian population in America. In it the journalist wrote about how the Asian population in America was not a “problem minority” because of its work ethic (Lee,6). He describe how because of their hard work and success in the schooling system, they had become a model minority, meaning that the other minority races such as the African Americans and the Hispanics should follow in their foot steps in terms of how to act. While the writer of this article meant this term in a positive way, Lee revealed through her work how this was actually hurting the Asian youth in America significantly.
The “model minority” ideal is so pervasive in the school environment today that Asian students who do not match up with it are often cast off. When Lee first met Ming Chang she thought that he was a “seemingly model achiever”, when in actuality he was a very low achiever in the high school (Lee, 69). He was struggling with his grades and was even on the brink of failing multiple classes at the school. His struggles in school could not be contributed to a lack of attention from his teachers, they were reaching out to him for help constantly. His teachers were asking him to come to after school sessions to raise his grades, but he would refuse. When Ming was asked why he was refusing this help, he explained how it would be “embarrassing to reveal his academic difficulties” to his peers (Lee, 69). This was because he was maintaining the image of being a high achiever well, he even was even being recruited by people to be a tutor. He did not want to lose that image for fear of embarrassment and exclusion from his peers. This is how the negatives of the model minority stereotype manifest themselves. . This creates even more divisions within the Asian community and furthers the lack of communication among students.
This racial division is not limited to the high school described in Lee’s book. As an Asian American, Kirsten described in his interview the presence of a “spectrum” of Asian students here at Trinity (Kirsten, 17). Asian students at Trinity either range from “really nerdy” to “white” (Kirsten, 17). These two groups do not really hang out with each other and because of this he “didn’t know a lot of Asians” (Kirsten, 17). Kirsten’s interview revealed that there are in fact major divisions at Trinity even within races, and as a result these divisions are limiting the experiences of students here. The Asians that do not measure up to the ideal level of intelligence here are immediately cast off and they are forced to assimilate into the white community in order to find a group of people.
Another way in which the topic of divisions of race is seen here at Trinity was with Beverly Tatum’s idea of racial identity. Tatum describes the theory of racial identity in her book “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together In the Cafeteria?” as referring to “the process of defining for oneself the personal significance and social meaning of belonging to a particular racial group” (Tatum, 16). This process of figuring out what one’s identity and place in this world means can be a painful process to go through for someone who is a minority in this American culture. The pain in finding out the realities through this process can lead to division and a lack of communication between the races. An example Tatum brought up in the book was the example of when her son was first going to school. He was the only African American in his class and as a result he was looked at differently by his peers. This was made apparent when one of his classmates asked him if his “skin was brown because he drank too much chocolate milk” (Tatum, 35). Tatum explains how by asking if he drinks “too much” chocolate milk, the classmate implies that the child’s skin is too dark. This places in the child’s head that there’s something wrong with him, lowering his self worth. This is a process that Tatum says all minorities go through, even ones at high ranking liberal arts schools.
This process of devaluing of self worth could be seen in the example of Fred. He is non-white and as a result he experienced many run ins with the campus security here at Trinity. He described how he has been stopped “a couple of times by campo” to see if he was from Hartford. By getting stopped by security he is now cast in the light as someone who is causing trouble. As Tatum refers to in her book, his case follows the racial identity process. These instances of racial profiling can end up lowering the minority’s self worth and as a result they are brought down and reluctant to reach out and communicate with the other races.
The negative effects of the dynamic of these divisions have very real consequences for students here because they create a toxic culture on Trinity’s campus. Take the example of Alice. She is a white student here at Trinity and recently had a problem with a cashier at one of the school restaurants. She had swiped her card on one of the cash cards and when fifteen dollars came up the cashier said that “her parents had come through for her. Alice thought that this comment was very rude and her first thought about it was that “she could get this woman fired” for saying such a comment to her (Alice, 43). This feeling of superiority is something that is very detrimental to the schooling environment here at Trinity. These divisions at Trinity create the environment where a white person feels comfortable to feel above people who are not the same color as they are. The only way to fight this discrimination is through communication and understanding, and those things will not be reached if these patterns continue to take place here at Trinity college.
Stacey Lee, Unraveling the “Model Minority” Stereotype: Listening to Asian American Youth, second edition (New York: Teachers College Press, 2009).
Beverly Daniel Tatum, “Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” and Other Conversations about Race, revised edition (New York: Basic Books, 2003).