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College Houses partake in dialogue on class

September 20, 2019

For eight weekends this fall, College House residents will gather in their respective chapter rooms and embark on an hour-long discussion about the implications of class at Bowdoin. Students will share stories, ask questions and reckon with the issues of class on campus.

Last spring, during the College’s first Intergroup Dialogue on class, Sam Brill-Weill ’20 came up with the idea for a series to discuss class on campus. The seven-week long program titled “Real Talks on Class” was organized by the Office of Inclusion and Diversity and facilitated by Kate Stern, associate dean of students for inclusion and diversity, and Sarah Seames, the director of the Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good. Students were asked to think critically about class structures in the U.S. and at Bowdoin, and they were also encouraged to share their own experiences.

Brill-Weill found himself inspired by Intergroup Dialogue and how it demonstrated the many misunderstandings about class at Bowdoin, but he felt it needed a wider reach.

“I left realizing the [Intergroup Dialogue] inherently reaches the people who want to be a part of the conversation already, so I reached out to Kate [Stern] afterwards to find a way where the same conversations could happen other places on campus.”

The first discussion in the series took place last weekend at Quinby House. Resident PC Riaño ’22 said that she felt the talks were productive and gave her a new lens through which to see the College.

“I think it gave me an idea of things, feelings or experiences in my life that I really never even thought of as an indicator of my class,” she said.

Katja Grumman ’20, who is moderating a number of the discussions, expressed excitement about the rest of the fall, and the amount of progress that they were able to make in one hour.

“The way we thought about [the discussion] is that we are trying to plant a seed,” she said. “We know it’s not possible to make leaps and bounds in one 60-minute discussion, but we are trying to give people the tools to have further discussions and make class a less scary topic to talk about.”

With help from Stern and Director of Religious and Spiritual Life Eduardo Pazos, the discussions have followed a similar model to last year’s “Real Talks on Race.” However, Stern pointed out that there is a distinction between the two topics.

“There is an invisibility that comes with class, unlike with race,” Stern said.

Grumman agreed with Stern that class is hard to recognize at Bowdoin, as the uniformity of dorms and dining plans causes students to differentiate themselves in unorthodox ways.

“Smaller markers become more prominent, like labels people wear or how people are decorating their dorms … buying furniture … going into town to eat once or twice a week,” Grumman said.

Stern added that one hour can only do so much.

“It’s the beginning of a conversation. It’s a place to self-reflect, to talk with other people and to hear from other people in a way that is doable in an hour.”

Stern extended an invitation for those who wanted to continue this conversation to enroll in the Intergroup Dialogue on class this coming spring.

Pazos agreed that the work to bridge class differences doesn’t end here.

“We want to make sure the expectations are set up correctly. This doesn’t fix anything, this doesn’t change the balances in any way, it is just the start of a conversation that hopefully houses and different classes on campus are starting to engage in,” he said.


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