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Confront your class reality

March 4, 2017

This piece represents the opinion of the Bowdoin Orient Editorial Board.

In the wake of the study published by the New York Times earlier this year about economic diversity and class mobility at colleges in the United States, the Orient interviewed a number of students on campus about their experiences with class and how it has impacted their time at Bowdoin. Though voices represented in this article spanned from every point on the socioeconomic spectrum, many expressed a similar sentiment: honest discussions about class are difficult, but critical.

With a topic as charged as class, before any productive conversations can take place, all students—regardless of background—must be honest and open with themselves about their own class standing.

Earlier this year, during the first-year Orientation events, students were asked to stand up in response to statements with which they identified. “Stand up if you’re lower class.” A few students stood. “Stand up if you’re middle class.” Many students rose. “Stand up if you’re upper class.” At this point, only a few students stood up.

This exercise reflects a broader misunderstanding of our class identities. The data from the aforementioned study clearly display a different reality than this self-selecting portrait. We understand the inclination to identify as middle class—all of us have done it. That being said, know what it means to be middle class. It is imperative to recognize the reality of one’s actual socioeconomic class.

If you are unaware how much money your family makes, call your parents and ask them how much they made last year. Figure out where this places you on the national economic spectrum, as well as Bowdoin’s own spectrum.

We must constantly acknowledge that Bowdoin has many very wealthy students. Fifty four percent of students pay $63,500 per year to attend this school. That is more than the median household income in the United States. At Bowdoin, the median household income is $195,900 annually, which means that half of the student body is in the top six percent nationally, according to 2014 census data. This can come to feel normal, but we have to remind ourselves it is not. It is immediately obvious that most of Bowdoin’s population is not middle class.

If everyone tries to identify as such, they excuse themselves from participating in a conversation in which they have to acknowledge their wealth. A situation in which the only people talking about class are those whose financial realities inhibit them from maintaining the middle-class illusion is unhealthy. Misconceptions of class at Bowdoin exacerbate class inequality on campus and are equally harmful to every student.

Just as with issues of race and other social hierarchies, productive conversation and change need to stem from those with privilege and power. Talking about class is uncomfortable no matter who you are, but if you are on the wealthier end of the spectrum, it is your turn to understand your financial reality and how it affects those around you.

This editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is comprised of Julian Andrews, Harry DiPrinzio, Dakota Griffin, Jenny Ibsen, Meg Robbins and Joe Seibert.

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