Time To Wake Up

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I never thought too much about race and social class as a young child. In fact, up until about four months ago, I still didn’t think about it in any sort of detailed way. Growing up, I thought that if I just stayed away from talking about both issues, then I wouldn’t get into any uncomfortable situations and could just go about living my life in what I perceived to be a normal way. Coming to Trinity changed all of that.

As I said, I never wanted to talk about these issues because I just wasn’t prepared to. I didn’t want to say anything that could be misconstrued as being racist or elitist, and I certainly did not want to ruffle any feathers with these issues. I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire, where the state is 94% white. However, I went to private school all my life, so I have been exposed to diverse cultures and people coming from different backgrounds. The school I went to from kindergarten through eighth grade, and then my high school, both prided themselves on having a diverse student body and embracing that diversity. There were plenty of discussions about race, and some about social class at my high school, but I would rarely go to those, and if they were required, would almost never speak. This goes back to not wanting to say anything that might cause controversy. It wasn’t until I came to Trinity that I began to see both issues differently.

Trinity has a lot of white students who come from either middle, upper-middle, and even upper class backgrounds. That, while coming mainly from my observations of daily life at Trinity in my short time here so far, can also be seen by the interviews that our class conducted this past semester. In these interviews, which can only be seen by members of the class, many of the students pointed out how there are a lot of white, upper-middle and upper class students on the campus. This didn’t seem too shocking to anyone, as Trinity attracts this group based on its small, private, liberal arts education, and the straightforward fact that the tuition is set at a very high number, and the admissions committee favors people who can pay full tuition.

This was evidenced by our class’ sit-down with Trinity’s Vice-President for Enrollment and Student Success Angel Perez. In the sit down, many questions were answered by Perez, but the one point that stood out to me was how they prefer families who can pay full tuition, for a multitude of reasons. This stuck with me, as it shows that no matter how great a certain student may be, more often than not, money plays a big role in college admissions, and those that have it tend to fair better than those who don’t.

Angel Perez talks to our Color and Money seminar in late September
Angel Perez talks to our Color and Money seminar in late September.

However, my experiences so far at Trinity have led me to see race in a much different lens, more so than social class, as I already had a general idea of the social class dynamics on this campus. It was with race that my thoughts have changed greatly since coming here.

As mentioned previously, I shied away from conversations when it came to race because I didn’t feel comfortable talking about it, and thought that as long as I didn’t say anything I wouldn’t be put under any pressure to speak my mind one way or another. One moment at Trinity changed all of that for the better.

On Monday, November 16, there was a walk-out held on campus where students, regardless of whether they were in class or not, could all meet in the Washington Room above the cafeteria in Mather Hall. I had first heard about this walk-out in my morning class on Monday, when one of the students relayed to the entire class that this would be taking place and to do their best to go to it. When I heard this, I immediately thought that it was a good idea, but I had zero intention of going to it, for many of the same reasons that I never wanted to speak about race while in middle school and high school. That all changed though when I came to our seminar that day, and Professor Dougherty told our class that at noon time we would pack up our things and walk as a class to the Washington Room. I didn’t know what to think, as I now felt uncomfortable in my spot, as I had planned on not going to this, and now our professor mandated that we all go.

As we entered the Washington Room, I didn’t know what to expect, and was certainly nervous for what might happen. What if they call on me? What if I have to say something? What if this, what if that? These were the thoughts rolling through my head as I took my seat in the corner of the room, as far away from the center, where a microphone was set up, as possible. What happened next is how all of these negative thoughts ceased and instead turned into an hour of painful to hear, yet important to listen to, discussion that is the crux for how my perceptions of race have changed since coming to Trinity.

Students putting their notecards in a jar at the "Wake Up World" event on Monday, November 16th, 2015.
Students putting their notecards in a jar at the “Wake Up World” event on Monday, November 16th, 2015.

After handing out notecards to everyone that walked in, the leaders of the discussion wanted people to share a time when they felt prejudiced against and to write that on the front of the notecard, and on the back they wanted suggestions for how to improve the situation. After everyone finished writing, they were encouraged to share their stories with the whole audience, or if they didn’t feel comfortable, could place their notecards in a jar in the middle and have someone else read it for them. Once one person stood up to share their story, many others followed suit, and for the next hour, there were many powerful stories shared. With each story shared, it became clear that Trinity wasn’t everything it was cracked out to be on websites and in pamphlets handed out to prospective families. There are real issues on the campus that need addressing, and this gathering was a good start, but clearly there needs to be more done. While I wish I had all the answers as to what needs to be done to get rid of the racism on this campus, I don’t, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other people who are trying tirelessly to find some solutions. Obviously this is a sensitive issue to people, but measures need to be taken to eradicate the horrible, mean words and issues that take place on this campus on a more often than not basis.

As for me, just being in this seminar has made me more aware of the issues that are taking place on campus. Going to class everyday and reading stories of events that happened on this campus just months ago that I never would have known about otherwise certainly has changed how I see race on this campus. Talking about it every class has also made me feel more comfortable speaking about a topic like this. As I mentioned previously, I was never before comfortable speaking about race because I was afraid of repercussions that might happen if I said something wrong or inconsiderate. After being in this class, I am now able to speak about these issues because I have become more informed and educated about race and its effect on different people on this campus. I have learned a lot being in this seminar, and have acquired new skills, but the ability to now feel comfortable when I’m speaking about sensitive topics, like race, has been the biggest development for me as a person. I’m obviously not the loudest student or the one who will talk the most, but I try to make it more meaningful and have more of an impact when I do speak.