To accompany this week’s feature on class,“What Money Means,” I invited Drew Van Kuiken ’17, Jhadha King ’20 and Kate Berkley ’18 to have a candid, personal discussion about class. In my reporting, many students expressed frustration with a lack of meaningful discussion. I had spoken to each of these students individually, but they did not know each other before this conversation. The transcript below has been edited for clarity but not for content.
Harry DiPrinzio ’18: A great way to start is to just be super open about your class. Describe your class – where you’re from – is there a story you can tell?
Drew Van Kuiken ’17: I’m from New Jersey. One of the reasons I wanted to have this conversation is because I…this is a caveat to end all caveats…this is something I want to think about but haven’t done a lot of thinking about. I come from a very privileged background in more ways than I want to admit. But in terms of class I think I’ve been very lucky. So, more background: I grew up in a suburb of New York City and my dad works as a consultant at McKinsey. So, money wasn’t really a problem for us. I went to private school, and then, I went to a boarding school, (which hadn’t been in my family.) My dad was the first one in his family to not be squarely in the middle class. So, I went to boarding school, I went to Bowdoin and I’ve been really, really lucky. My mom never had to work, for example. Boarding school in particular made Bowdoin a place where, like, this is something that I’m really used to.
Jhadha King ’20: I grew up in West Palm Beach, Florida. I would say my class is definitely poor. I grew up with a single mom. I’m a first-gen kid. Until I was about in my sophomore year of high school, I had dreams to go to the local community college because college was the goal. And then suddenly I got a scholarship to go this high school my junior and senior year. It was a private school. It was founded by one of the Koch brothers, if that gives you any indication. He built the school ‘cause he was like “I don’t wanna send my kids to boarding school.” He’s a great guy – not politically – but, surprisingly, it’s a liberal school.
So, I grew up with my three older siblings, and my mom definitely worked very hard to support us. She used to be a cab driver, so there were no–– like, I go to work from nine to five, it was like 24 hours a day because we wanted to live places. It got to the point [where we were] moving, like, every couple months. We never stayed anywhere for very long. We lived in apartments. There was one point where we lost an apartment because my mom had health issues and shit going on. And then – so we were just staying in a hotel at that point, and hotels are ridiculously expensive when you think about it like, “let’s stay for one more night”. And we finally got back on our feet: we found an apartment to stay in for two or three months. It was very “find a new place, live there till we run out of money,” and then my mom works twice as hard to find a new place. So, yeah, definitely struggled a lot.
I don’t know. Just going here is just honestly such an absolute privilege. I’m always just telling myself, “Who cares if the food is bad at Thorne? Because honestly, you know, mom is probably at home eating ramen noodles. She’s probably having to eat Taco Bell for breakfast or some shit. So, just appreciate it.” This is honestly a dream come true. I only found out about it at the end of my junior year and this was completely my reach school. And then suddenly it was like – you got into your dream school. And they’re not making me pay, like, anything to come here. Like, how the fuck am I coming here!? I got scholarships and shit so my mom doesn’t have to worry about it. But when it comes to paying for Bowdoin I’m absolutely doing it myself because I can’t expect my mom to pay for things like the phone bill and then you know, doctors appointments and then taking care of my step dad. Things wouldn’t add up if I was like, then, “and suddenly I need money.”
Kate Berkley ’18: I’m Kate. I’m from Kansas City, Missouri. I would describe myself as coming from a very privileged upper-middle class background. My dad works, and my mom [worked] until recently worked, but she was at home with my siblings and I when I was little. I went to private school from the time I was in preschool. I lived within a district–– I think that where I live in Kansas City is really interesting because most of the kids who I went to school with were a lot wealthier than we were and lived in the wealthier suburbs on the Kansas side. And I lived in, like, an older neighborhood that was much less expensive and more diverse, but I still went to private school, and…that was something that my parents always valued over anything else––was like sending me to school and my brother and sister to school. But on my dad’s side, we’re all really privileged, and we’ve all been really well educated. My dad and his siblings all went to college and his–my cousins have [gone] to colleges much like Bowdoin. On my mom’s side, it’s different. She’s from New Jersey. She’s from northern New Jersey, and my grandparents––so my grandparents are from Harrison, New Jersey, outside of Newark, and their parents were immigrants. So, my grandpa is very much the stereotyped, typical American dream story – couldn’t finish college but ended up getting a scholarship to Notre Dame and then worked his way up from a pharmacist working in this pharmaceuticals company and then sent all his four kids to school. So, my mom was a first-generation college student, but I don’t think that that necessarily– the expectation from the time that she was little was that she would go to college. And then that was always an expectation that was on me from the time that I was little.
Certainly, Bowdoin has been a place that I have had friends from backgrounds that are much more socioeconomically diverse than my own or the pool that I went to highschool with. I think I was in the middle of a small spectrum in high school, but I think that was juxtaposed with the people in my neighborhood. But I’ve never had to worry about money–– I work here, but if I didn’t I would be okay. And that’s just an enormous privilege for me.
HD: Definitely immense privilege. Growing up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, on Central Park West. Going to a fancy private school through kindergarten that costs mind blowing amounts of money. When I think about it, I’m like, “Mom and dad, you know you didn’t have to spend this much money!” And they’re like, “Fuck you! we spent it!” You know?
It affects my – that type of privilege – the privilege I’ve benefited from and just have – affects my life in every way. And just affects everything – has everything to do with who I am. Every experience has something to do. So, I always thought I was going to go to college. Everyone at my high school went to college. And specifically in high school, or just Dalton in general, I had no idea what kind of a rarified environment it was. How incredibly, incredibly exceptional a place it is. And I still can’t distance its normalcy in my mind. I can’t reconcile its normalcy, because it’s what I know, with the fact that it’s just not normal at all.
KB: I really remember having a conversation with my dad We were just driving somewhere, and the thought occurred to me: how easy it would be to only interact with people within your social class or how easy that was for me. I was going to private school with people who had similar backgrounds to me, and I’m going to a private college, and I could only interact with people that all kind of have the same background or are as educated as I am. And it’s sort of crazy. I think it’s easy to blind yourself to your own situation or how unique your own situation is because it’s easy to stay within your own people all the time or only interact with people that are like you in terms of your class.
JK: I think that Bowdoin is fantastic in that way. Because I feel like we are on the same level when it comes to academics when we first get here, and it’s really you taking the initiative to say, “Where are my peers coming from?” You know? Whereas, me and my group of friends, because we probably are minority or lower income,… say, “Wow, you’re poor as fuck, and I’m poor as fuck, and that’s cool.” But we haven’t taken the initiative to say, “Now, where the rich kids at?” I feel like, inherently, we just assume that if we see kids in Patagonia vests, it’s like, “Ahh, they’re the rich kids.” We can just tell by the labels that it’s like, “They’re just the people that are in the same class.” I feel like we’re just not taking the initiative to look for people outside of our class. But I don’t think that’s something that inherently you have to find at Bowdoin.
KB: Do you think that there are other labels beside clothing that indicate class?
JK: I don’t specifically know because, apparently, I’m not well-trained in this because I don’t know brands. Whatever you (Drew) said your dad’s company – coming from a low income background and coming from the South and coming from the–– so I don’t know the places. Like, “Oh, I lived in this part of New York.” So, you lived in New York. Cool. And for other people that means something. They get the language of the upper class. So, it’s definitely a language barrier.
DV: It’s interesting that–– ‘cause obviously I grew up right outside of New York. For me, it goes a lot beyond clothing brands. You go into freshman year and it’s like, “Oh, you went to a boarding school?” You don’t even have to ask them. You know the 6’2” blond-haired guy with blue eyes went to boarding school. Or the small girl wearing the vineyard vines fleece. You know what that clothing brand means, but you know what the way that person is dressing looks like. I don’t really hang out with any boarding school kids now, but it’s interesting how that was really clear to me, just being on a campus from like day one.
JK: What do you mean by that? What do you mean that you’re not friends with boarding school kids? What does that mean to you? Boarding school kids means, like, oh, rich kids who went somewhere in the Northeast, but to you it’s probably, like, snobby kids.
DV: It’s confusing because I don’t mean to paint boarding school with a broad brush. One thing I think boarding school does really well is–my boarding school was like 50 percent kids on financial aid. So, like, it wasn’t just all really wealthy kids from– It was predominantly– It’s half kids who can afford that. And that’s a ridiculous subset of the country. Um…but I think to a certain extent, it’s actually not necessarily true, for whatever reason, with the kids in my grade and the grade below from my high school, but there is a certain type of boarding school kid that come from boarding school and goes to a NESCAC school and––right? I don’t know how to explain it without being offensive because it’s a stereotype, and it’s inherently offensive even though it’s someone that we shouldn’t be all that worried about offending. It’s like, yeah it’s someone who like is tangentially aware of how lucky they are but also really fucking loves playing lacrosse like I do or really fucking loves going to ski like I do.
HD: I think an interesting question to me is in what ways does social segregation– [JK] you were getting at this: your friends are all poor, and you haven’t made the step to talk to the rich kids. In what ways does that play out in making friends? In interacting with people on campus?
DV: My friend group now is socioeconomically varied. I live with eight guys in the tower, and we range from kids like me to kids who are entirely paid for by the school. It’s interesting to think about it because I also lived in a social house, and the social house was very much not like that. It was a lotta kids who were very wealthy.
JK: I’m a first year, and I feel like the housing process probably did do a good job as far as mixing very diverse students together, except for my room: I room with three rich white girls from the Northeast. And I’ll see other rooms, and it’s like we’ve got an Asian American from California and a poorer kid from New York and then this one kid, this one tall athlete from Massachusetts…and this kid from Minneapolis. So, it’s very diverse, and I kinda wonder like, how did I get stuck in this room? So, I guess that’s an indication that I need to stop thinking down on rich people. But definitely, growing up the way I did, white people equates rich, which is this stereotype that I need to try to wash out of my head. But it’s hard when you have like, “Oh, I’m thinking about buying new Birks because I saw how cute they were on someone else.” And seeing that constantly. Like, I know I go to Bowdoin, but really? Do I have to live in Bowdoin?
KB: It’s interesting when you come in as a first year, too because for me that was the first time I’ve ever lived outside of my own house. And I think in some ways there’s this lack of awareness of how you background might be really different from your roommates’. I had two roommates freshman year, and they were both white, but we definitely ranged in socioeconomic diversity. And it was more subtle things like someone wanted to buy a rug for our room, and we had debates about how much we were willing to spend on that. Or like, unpacking clothes into the closet. And it’s like all of a sudden–I wonder if you guys can relate to this– but for the first time I was like, “Oh, there are differences in this room, and I’ve never lived with anyone else who hasn’t been from this same background as I have.” And sort of adjusting and, like, I think it made me more self aware in terms of what are things about me that come off pretty quickly to others that they might perceive or be able to interpret about my class or where I come from?
HD: What came up?
KB: I had, like, multiple coats. I had a short down jacket and a long one and then an other jacket that I wore. But I don’t actually need three coats. I had stuff. Like, I bought new bedding that I bought for college specifically rather than bringing something that I brought from home.
JK: As far as assumptions about other people, I would say that I probably made some huge assumptions about people in my room. I would say that probably the richest girl in my room is probably the nicest to me. Stalking on Facebook I was like,“This girl is a fucking gymnast. Oh my god, she does sailing. She’s from Manchester by the Sea, Mass. This is going to be the worst year of my life. I’m going to have to deal with some privileged-ass people.” And suddenly I get there, and–like, I refuse to be friends with people because of proximity; I want to be friends with people because of genuine interest–and legit, she’s been just the most welcoming person.
And we’ve had probably one or so conversations about class. Because it happens very rarely, but when it happens its probably me aggressively saying, “What were you raised like!? How poor were you!?” She has talked to me and said, “I try to not act as privileged as I was raised because I know that’s not my money.”
But you just ignore it. I get that you don’t want to acknowledge it but you do have– if you feel like ordering new bras and underwear, you can do that pretty much every week. So, I did make assumptions, but, at the same time, her personality has lived up to more than I thought it would be. But as far as her financial-ness, her personality isn’t like, “Oh, I’m the rich snob.” But as far as thoughtlessly buying things, it’s like, “Oh, we’ve got new coats coming.” Or: Oh, you didn’t like the old TV? You bought a new one. Or, oh the air mattress had a hole in it? You bought a new one.
HD: How do you reconcile… We’re becoming our own people here. I think to varying degrees we had autonomy before, but certainly we’re adults now, and we have our own money now as well. And to what extent… How do you reconcile your parents money and your money?
KB: I have this memory… This just reminded me of something. I remember, in 7th grade, getting in a fight with my best friend, who was from… Her family had much less money than mine did. And she was like, “You’re so spoiled.” And it really caught me off guard because whenever I heard the word spoiled up until that point I interpreted it as being a spoiled brat and being totally unaware of your privilege and asking for things and being a brat about it, and I didn’t feel like that’s what I did.
But I had never really thought about the idea that [I] was just spoiled no matter what, no matter how I behaved because the idea that I could get a new coat or new shoes when I wanted or need them, and I didn’t have to think about it. And when I asked my parents for money to go to a movie, they would give it to me. I think that that has come up again–not in those terms–thinking about what does it mean for me to be able to work here, but then use that money for things that I want to have, not that I need necessarily. Like, I can save up money to go skiing or go on a trip or go out to eat or buy new clothes or something like that as opposed to having to pay my cell phone bill or save that for when I graduate and need some money. Because I’m so lucky that I have that safety net, that my parents provide for my needs and pay my tuition here. That’s something that I’ve been trying to think a lot about: how do I think about my own money and what kind of privilege is attached to that.
DV: For years, my parents would yell at me like, “Drew, get the fuck over yourself.” To a certain extent because I was always being a little bit of a prick. Because [I would say] “I’m my own man, Dad. I don’t need you,” while I was wearing my dad’s own shirts and my dad’s buying me– and sending me to this nice school.
It’s like, “Oh, poor you.” But then there also is a certain sense of, like, what does it mean that I’ve been given this from my dad and from my mom? I don’t know. I guess for me it’s always been recognizing that. You wouldn’t– I wouldn’t have done what I have done without what I’ve been given. But that doesn’t mean that you want to not acknowledge that it exists. I think… I don’t know. That’s where I’m at now. I’m just kinda owning it. But it took a lot to be at that point, basically.
HD: What do you think prevents people with privilege from recognizing it?
JK: Acknowledging it?
HD: Acknowledging. And I think the next step is really, like, owning it and really taking responsibility for – I think one, for me, my parents defined – in this world of New York City private school, my parents defined themselves as upper-middle class. Because, because the people who go to Dalton are insanely wealthy. And so that was something I internalized. “I’m not insanely rich, I’m just– normal.”
DV: I have a memory of playing lacrosse in my backyard with the son of, like, a guy who does surgery by putting a camera on a cord and going about your veins. Yeah, it’s the wealthiest surgeon on earth, and he and I were sitting in our backyard saying, “Yeah, I think we’re upper-middle class. Yeah.”
JK: It’s crazy that you even think of that at that age. My parents were like, “Yeah, we’re poor,” and that was the end of the conversation. So, it’s interesting to see the other end of the spectrum.
My question is, like, even if you acknowledge your class and your wealth, what does it do if you don’t create a conversation about it? You’re still going to go home at Thanksgiving or whatever vacation you decide. You’re gonna fly home, or “I’m feeling like I’m gonna take a trip to Spain.” You know? It doesn’t – I don’t feel like it does anything unless you do something about it. At the end of the day, your parents are probably giving you inheritance money or you know. I’m making generalizations. But at the end of the day what do upper class people think that they can do with conversations about class?
HD: Is there a responsibility that comes with having privilege?
JK: Is there?
DV: Speaking more generally, I have no idea. I have literally no idea. Part of the reason I came is that I’m, like, “I’ve got this. I have no idea what to do about it.” There are all these articles online that can tell me what to do about being white and being straight, but I have no idea what to do about this.
JK: I get being an advocate or something. If you’re part of BQSA, you’re like “I’m an ally.” Or if you’re like, “Not all white people are bad!” But what are you going to do about class is my question. What? Are you going to donate all your money? That would just make you as poor as me. That doesn’t do anything.
HD: Has this been a discussion for you [all] at Bowdoin? Have you had this discussion before?
KB: I’ve had this conversation a lot with my roommates because the four of us are from very different socioeconomic backgrounds and kinda extreme ends of the spectrum. And it’s really nice that I have these friends that it’s easy to feel comfortable talking about it [with]. But I feel like it’s by far the most uncomfortable thing that I talk about with them, and I talk with them about everything, but talking about money can be really uncomfortable. But all of us are interested in working in the arts or in education or in public service of sorts, and at this point we’re starting to think about, “Okay, well, what does that mean in terms of changing how we live?” For some of us, that might be improving how we grew up; for others, it’s, like, living with less, certainly.
JK: I don’t know. Like I said, the conversation has probably happened once in my room. It was like, not everyone was involved. We didn’t exchange perspectives, like, “What does this mean to you?” When I say rich, white girl from the Northeast, like, probably reflecting on it, two of them are probably middle class. But we don’t have the conversation, so I just have the assumptions that I have not corrected because we don’t have the conversation. And it’s like, even if I bring it up, it’s kinda like, let’s not talk about it right now, and it’s very awkward. Because it’s crazy to me because the most extensive conversation about class [I’ve had] has been with Harry, who I met the night of, and we kept talking about it. So, it’s just crazy to me. I’m supposed to room with these people and [have] these diverse experiences at Bowdoin. Bowdoin is supposed to be this, like, all inclusive community where conversation and intellect is inspiring and that sort of thing, but then it’s just so closed off in my room. I’ll talk about it with my friends– with the friends of my choosing, I guess – but my friends talk about like, “One of her friends is gonna let her stay at her place when she goes back because she doesn’t have a heater, and it’s really cold.” Like those are the conversations that we have. It’s just candid. It’s not like, “Let’s just sit down and discuss.”
KB: Sometimes I wonder the extent to which conversations where it’s like, “We’re all going to sit down and talk about this in abstract way,” are easier to do than to, like, have really candid conversations with people who you know really well and are living with.
DV: In the context of your roommates, what would it look like to really have a discussion about class?
JK: The brief conversation that we’ve had was like, “I don’t want to be as privileged as I am.” But that conversation had to last maybe five minutes max. I guess, I just want to learn about, like, ‘cause I’ve only seen, like, in the movies, “I’m gonna go rent a Porsche and go whip around the city.” That’s what being rich means to me. In my head, being rich is like, “I don’t like this dog. I’m going to buy a new one.” But then I realize that there are people that can, like, afford new cars pretty much every year if they wanted to . I’m sure I’m making this up, but I don’t know what it means! I’ve only known my perspective my entire life. Or I’ve known my friends who are like, slightly more poor or slightly less poor or are on the same level. But when I went to the new private school it was like we didn’t talk about it. It was like I saw these kids pulling up in their cars while I was taking the city bus home. I guess I just want to learn about it. I’m not going to be like, “You’re privileged. Shut up!”
DV: When your roommates talk about buying something from a new sale, what’s to separate that from a conversation about class? Did that conversation actually happen, or did they just, like, show up with new clothing and you’re like, “Oh okay, I guess this how rich people work?”
JK: I’ll just walk in, and they’re like, “OMG, Victoria’s Secret is having a new sale,” or “American Eagle is having a new sale. I just want to buy new underwear.” And then, like we’ve talked about, I’ll walk in, and she’ll be like, “Oh I’m obsessed with the underwear.” I walk in the room, and this is Valentine’s Day or like a couple days before – this is just to give you–– So, one of my roommates brings in a package, and I’m like, “Cool, you have a Valentine’s Day package. That’s so exciting.” And she pulls out a bouquet of roses, with a vase, with chocolates… Wait, no, not chocolates. It was, like, this herbal thing. And she’s like, “Ugh, there are no chocolates in here. That’s the best part.” And she, like, tosses the thing to the side and puts the flowers in the vase, and she’s like, “Yeah, my dad buys them for me and my mom every year, but normally I eat the chocolates, and she gets the flowers, so this is just stupid.”
And I’m just thinking…. There are just weird instances, of like, suddenly we have a new TV. I just realized, we have a printer mixed with a scanner sort of thing. And I’m like, “Crap, do you want me to pitch in for paper and ink?” And she’s like, “Hmm–” and, like, pulls out a box filled with paper and ink and is like, “My dad likes sending them to us. It makes him feel like he’s doing something.” And I’m like, “So that’s a no…?”
It’s just weird ‘cause pitching in is not really needed. Whereas, before with my friends it’s like, “Yeah, could you give me five dollars?”
I feel like it would be more open to having conversations about class if it wasn’t shut down in the paths. And it’s like I feel like I can talk candidly with my friends, probably because I’m not living in the same space as them. But as far as broaching the subject, I feel like it’s pretty much the duty of the minority, not minority as in black but because I’m the poor one. It makes me uncomfortable; I should talk about it. But it’s kinda like, when you have two people at the extremes of wealth and poverty, how are you going to bring that conversation up, knowing that these people still have to go home to that?
DV: This is the problem I see here, right? Its nice to talk about it, but then your roommate still gets excited about the American Eagle sale right? Or I do – something– I can’t think of what I do, but I definitely do something, right?
What does it mean to have had the conversation, but still have those same actions occur?
KB: Yeah, I think that might be one of the issues of these conversations never being that concrete. In like, we can talk about class abstractly, but maybe with your roommates… She has a general idea of her privilege but doesn’t see the nuances of it that you are more aware of.
And I think some of that is [that] we can talk about, like, privilege and socioeconomic class and, like, two ends of the spectrum, but I don’t think… I think it’s much harder… And this is where these tough conversations about recognizing things that you yourself do…those conversations are a lot harder to have, but that’s what makes you recognize more of those nuanced parts of privilege, maybe.
JK: I don’t think privilege is a bad thing. This is coming from a poor person. Like, you have privilege. It’s gotten you here. We’re all here. And I’m not saying that privilege should not be recognized or anything, and I’m not saying like…but I just feel like, yes, having a conversation is important, but at the end of the day, I’m still going to go back to my room, and it’s still going to be awkward. you know? I don’t know what we expect to come out of conversations about this. I don’t know what you guys could possibly do with this privilege or what I could probably do to start conversations. I just don’t know where the conversation is supposed to come from. Is everybody supposed to meet with Harry?
HD: A conversation is totally inadequate, I think….
JK: Keep talking…
HD: And I think what, Kate, you’re getting at is, like, there’s some form of real self-reflection that’s required of, kind of, people with privilege, which has to translate into action. It can’t just be, “I thought about it.”
DV: But what does that action look like? Especially when you talk about, like, part of the process is coming to terms with and acknowledging. Beyond recognizing abstractly that you have privilege, what is acknowledging in terms of action actually look like?
JK: Why would people in upper classes want to do that?
HD: I think for me, it’s like…it’s part of a broader understanding of the kind of unjust ways in which the world works and the ways in which I benefited from those unjust ways. My privilege is not just me having more stuff than other people. It’s me actually benefiting from…potentially exploitative…systems that cause harm to other people. And then understanding that and actively, in my life, working to fix those systems.
JK: I like that. Quote it. Put it in the article.
KB: Right. And I don’t just want to echo you, but I really think that it comes with deciding that you have… Because your voice is privileged, then it’s your responsibility to use that for some sort of good. And fighting to change these systems or, like, putting that wealth or that educated voice out there because I think it ultimately it comes down to systemic inequalities that have to change.
JK: That’s why I really like service learning trips, like the alternative spring breaks that I’m doing. We’re actually learning while impacting communities, and I think that’s a fantastic idea. And how can we apply that, not only with ourselves or at Bowdoin, but at home?
I feel like so many people are like, “Oh, Bowdoin! I’m gonna be an awesome student while I’m here. I’m gonna do community service.” And suddenly you get back to your own neighborhood, and that stops.
HD: I feel like it’s important to be concrete – just as a follow up – and, like, the ways in which I’ve benefited from exploitative systems feel abstract, but, for example, my mom works in the apparel industry or has. She works for a company (she has), that makes women’s clothing that’s sold at, like, Kmart and Bloomingdale’s. So, I don’t know. I think those kind of industries are problematic because we’re relying on totally underpaid and exploited workers who are abroad, and they’re bad for the environment. I was reading something today about how tons of clothing manufactures, textile mills, the runoff of dyes and things, it just goes right into the rivers, and that’s very bad.
My mom is at the top of the system – not at the top of the system, but at the top of one enterprise within that system – that has benefited from exploitative processes, and that wealth has translated directly to me.
DV : So, I guess as a senior, for me the relevant question becomes, like, when you’re picking your career, do you pick something where you’re like, “Alright, this is an unqualified good. I know that what I’m doing is not tainted by these systems.” Do you believe that you can pick a job where you can… Speaking from experience, you’re, like, at job force and you’re like, “Holy shit. I have problems with this, this, this, this, this, and this.” And it’s like, what does that mean to me in terms of what I’m trying to do with my life? That’s a question I don’t have an answer to, but it’s like when you make that judgment call, how do you?–Is it just, you pick the unqualified good? Is there an answer there?
KB: What do you mean by unqualified good?
DV: So, if you’re a teacher- I’m relatively – I’m worse at the education debate, but maybe it’s you’re working for a charter school, and you think charter schools are bullshit. But, with teachers, there’s less of a thing like that. But take my dad as a consultant, for example. Is it that now he’s the kind of person that can pick his own clients so he can find companies that he believes are really serving the world and serve them? Is that ok? Or is the fact that he had to serve whoever the fuck who he was told to serve a long time ago… What does that mean?
DV: And then, is every good Bowdoin student a teacher?
KB: It’s such an interesting dilemma because it’s the idea of what do you want to do versus, what… My dad’s a businessman, but he loves his job. He’s so passionate about envelopes. That’s what he sells. And that’s very cool, but I’m not genuinely interested in that. I’m interested in teaching.
But you’re right. There’s also the dilemma of, like, do I teach at a private school and teach kids who are, you know, coming in well-fed and have parents that are really good advocates for them? I think there’s benefit to that because you’re also hopefully instilling really good values in kids that have voices that are automatically empowered and elevated. Or do you teach in an inner city or lower-income community school, where you’re much more burnt out by your own job and have much more trouble controlling the classroom and it’s less…it’s less immediately rewarding? In the long term, you’re hopefully helping these kids that need it more, and they don’t have kids that are helping them, but there’s sort of this issue of your own happiness and your passion even if you’re helping others.
JK: You don’t always have to be morally conscious though. Does that make any sense? Even if you decide to go with the private school, you’re still like helping these kids and doing a great job. We’re still ignoring the fact that there are other ways that you can help communities or low-income people.
KB: Take Stan Druckenmiller, right? He’s a hedge fund guy. He’s probably not doing the most moral work ever, but he made billions and billions of dollars and he’s an outstanding philanthropist. He backed the Harlem Children’s Zone and all of these organizations that are doing really great things.
JK: It doesn’t even have to be like, “Let’s donate all this money.” It can be like, “I’m going to be a big buddy or a big brother or big sister or some…” Like, you know I’m not saying that you, because you’re rich or because you made this much money per year, you automatically have to sign up for a program or do a good deed or some shit, to get rid of the bad karma or bad juju. I’m just saying, like, if you have the initiative, I’m not saying you should throw away your career plan, your passion, your hard work. There are other options. You don’t have to suddenly devote your life to charity and becoming this amazing person. You’re amazing if you want to have the conversation.
HD: I think it’s a really hard question to answer. But I think there’s a lot of work that could be done in finding those answers. We don’t talk enough about those options, those career paths that are both really rewarding and really good. Those alternative visions… Our ideas are limited, I think, but I don’t know.
JK: How do you feel that conversations about class can be improved at Bowdoin? Should this be small group discussions? Should we have like this huge… bring everybody into the school, sit them down in the auditorium, let’s talk about class? How do you feel like this can go forward? I mean like the article is a really great idea. It’s very intimate. Nobody feels threatened. But when you get people on the stage, and you’re like, “Now talk about how much money you have,” it can be very awkward. It puts people in this very awkward place. Do you feel like this is the responsibility of the students that want to have this conversation?
KB: I think that’s one of the things that… I think about this a lot, just in general. Like, the three of us are here because we’re willing to be here, and we’ve thought about this before, maybe. I think that it can be hard. I don’t know. I guess I wonder how do you make someone have a conversation, or can you make someone have a conversation that doesn’t want to think about it, doesn’t want to have it? I personally really think that there should be more built into freshman orientation about class because those are conversation that you literally have to have or listen to. But I think that they have to be more concrete like the one that we’re having where we’re really thinking pretty explicitly about what our classes are. And I think that that’s a conversation that happens outside of the classroom, too.
I think that there’s a certain element of this hesitance to out yourself. I can personally attest to being uncomfortable talking about where I come from and not wanting to reveal my socioeconomic class, and I’m sure that happens on all points on the spectrum. With the privilege walk, I feel like that was a really cool thing, and I didn’t feel uncomfortable about that, but I guess I’m just wondering how private does this need to be? Should this be maintained as something that’s very personal and very private?
JK: I have a really harsh stance on this, but I feel like I constantly have to confront how uncomfortable I am, every day of my life. Being a bisexual black woman from the South from a low-income house, from first-gen…I’ve got it all. So, if people are rich and privileged and are like, “I only have this one thing that I have to overcome.” That makes me upset that they don’t wanna be uncomfortable for one instance. I know that that’s a simplification of it. I know that they’re gonna have to deal with people knowing that, “Oh, I’m this kid,” every time they’re at Bowdoin. I just feel like, if you can’t be uncomfortable for more than five minutes, what are you gonna do with the rest of your life? It makes me upset.
KB: I really agree.
JK: I know there are bigger implications than that, but if you have the courage to have the conversation, people are gonna respect you more for that than saying, “Wow, this kid grew up with money.” At the end of the day, that’s not your money. Yes, you’re benefiting from it, and yes, you may inherit it, but that’s not concrete either. Something may happen. You may get robbed. And at the end of the day, you’re still on your own two feet right now. As long as you’re on campus, you have to deal with being a Bowdoin student first and your privileged background second.
DV: My somewhat cynical take on it is to really have the conversation, like the privilege walk is…yeah, that’s helpful. It’s kids poking a little bit of fun. But to really have the conversation, you need to go out and have someone just start throwing firebombs. Get people riled up on both sides of the spectrum when they’re alone in HL and looking at the Orient and thinking, “Shit, what is this person saying about me?” You need someone in the opinion section to say like, “If you’re rich, you fucking suck.” And then all the rich people sit to themselves and are like, “What does that mean?” I don’t know because being a flamethrower is awful, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.