Color and Money FYSM
When I graduated from my small town high school in suburban New York, I graduated with not one black student in my class. Even more, there was not one black student in my entire high school on the day I graduated. As you can imagine, my schooling experience growing up thus was not very racially diverse. Not to say I was ignorant of race issues and problems in todays America, but coming to Trinity and in particular being in the freshman the seminar Color and Money has helped to open my eyes even more so on the topics of systematic inequality in America with regards to both race and social class, and what it means for America’s youth today.
Casually talking to some guys who live on my hall was when I had a revelation about my privilege as a blond, white girl that I had never been able to experience in my high school due to the lack of diversity. These students were freshman, athletes, and Trinity students. They were also black. They were pretty upset over something that had happened earlier that day- a campus safety guard had approached the friends (3 of them) and asked them if they went to Trinity. One of them, recanting the story, said “I was actually wearing Trinity sweatpants when this guy asked us this. Like seriously?” They were annoyed but had made it into somewhat of a joke, a joke about how blatantly stereotyped they were because they were black- and this wasn’t the first time a situation like that had happened to them. After this experience, and after reading Adolfo Abreu’s letter in our seminar discussing this exact problem, I started to understand in a more intense way what systematic inequality was and exactly how present white privilege was. I realized I will never be asked if I am a Trinity student because of the color of my skin, I will never have to justify why I am on a campus I paid to go to. Further more, I will most likely never be subjected to things like the “stop and frisk” policy in New York (where I live) where police can search anyone appearing “suspicious”, I will probably continue my record of never being “randomly selected” to be searched at an airport, but ultimately I will never have to prove something about myself to other people because of the color of my skin. I know these examples are particularly specific, but when I was trying to understand what exactly “white privilege” meant, specific things like this kept jumping out to me. Not only were my views on racial inequality expanded through my time at Trinity and through our seminar, but my understanding on class structure in America were extremely broadened.
If my hometown was racially un- diverse, the economic diversity in my hometown was even worse. Almost every year the graduation rate was 100%, with the college matriculation rate differing from 99% to 100% every few years. “Why was this?” I always wondered. I wasn’t ignorant enough to think that it was because the students attending my school were somehow smarter then the high school the town over, who had a 40% graduation rate and an even lower college matriculation rate. After reading “Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality” by Laura Armstrong and Elizabeth Hamilton, it suddenly became very clear how this inequality was possible. They talk about how those students from an upper class have “significant family resources and connections — which set them up for jobs after graduation, regardless of credentials — allow them to take easy majors and spend as much time if not more drinking as they do studying. It also deters those on the “mobility pathway,” as those low-income students seeking entry into the middle class are both poorly supported and distracted by the party framework.”
As I probably don’t need to point out, Trinity is one of the most expensive liberal arts colleges in the United States, with a tuition upwards of 60,000 dollars- so I always knew I was extremely lucky to not have worry about paying my tuition, I knew I was extremely lucky that I wouldn’t be in thousands of dollars of debt from student loans when I graduated. I knew all of this coming into Trinity but it never quite hit home the way it did until I saw firsthand how real this inequality was and how much it could affect ones path in life. One of my good friends, a sophomore here at Trinity, was by no means lower class. I would probably classify her as middle class, maybe even middle upper class by America’s standards. Her freshman year her financial situation was very similar- if not the same- as mine; or in other words she did not have to be on financial aid and her family took care of the tuition. Preparing to come into her sophomore year, things couldn’t have looked better she was excited to see all of her school friends and the beginning of the year was always so fun, so many parties and so much to do. It then came as a huge shock to her when her parents informed her that- for whatever reason- they could no longer afford to pay her full tuition and she would have to take out student loans and attempt to pay at least 15,000 of each semester of her tuition. I know that on the scale of student loans, many people have it way worse- but what sat with me and really gave me a different perspective was the very real shift of the attitude of someone who didn’t have any financial worries when it came to school versus someone who suddenly has so much invested. Her anxiety shot through the roof- suddenly the “partying” aspect of the school year did not matter so much to her anymore, and all of her focus went into trying to figure out how she would afford to pay off this debt. For me, this really sat with me because it was around the same our seminar was reading “Paying for the Party” and it was just like a first hand account of what they describe in the book.
Ultimately what this seminar has taught me is how to understand systematic inequality and how ones privilege or lack there of can have a very real and have a very big impact on almost everything we experience in life. The only way to move forward as a society and to move past these inequalities is to acknowledge they exist and work to learn more and more about what they mean, which is what we have done this year in our seminar through our readings and discussions.