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Social Justice Institute hosts workshop on class and privilege

November 12, 2021

On Monday, the Social Justice Leadership Institute held a workshop titled Class, Classism and Privilege. The workshop was the second of eight sessions designed to address various topics related to identity and social justice.

The event began with two informative videos that provided context on classism in the U.S. today. The program’s facilitators, Associate Dean of Students for Inclusion and Diversity and Director of the Center for Sexuality, Women and Gender Kate Stern and Director of the McKeen Center for the Common Good Sarah Seames, then led participants through various small group exercises.

Attendee Kasey Cunningham ’22 felt that the session brought to surface important issues impacting everyday interactions among students at the College.

“I think about class a lot, being at Bowdoin,” Cunningham said. “I think it’s not something that gets talked about enough because it’s an uncomfortable conversation.”

The workshop emphasized the impact of classism on the social fabric of Bowdoin.

“There’s a general expectation of a certain level of wealth that allows students to do certain things and participate in certain activities like going out to eat and going on spring break trips,” Cunningham said. “There’s never a question of costs associated with that.”

Participants shared that while many resources are available for low-income students, not all of them are well-publicized. While many participants were aware that the Bowdoin Outing Club rescinded its membership fee this year, some were surprised to hear that the Craft Center will waive its 10 dollar membership fee for students on financial aid.

“A lot of times I find out about resources from other people rather than from the College,” Cunningham said.

Participant Kyle Moeller ’24 felt that the abundance of opportunities creates potentially unreasonable expectations for low-income students.

“There’s this attitude that if you’re a student on financial aid and you’re not taking advantage of these opportunities then you’re not doing enough, or you’re not being the low-income student that you should be,” Moeller said. “It creates this ‘opportunity guilt.’”

The small group discussions were the highlight of the workshop according to participants, who appreciated the opportunity to share their personal stories related to classism and hear from their peers. Still, some had ideas about ways to improve future sessions.

“This workshop was very broad and asked questions about classism as a national concept, and I feel like that was a missed opportunity,” Moeller said. “I wished there had been more focus on systems of classism at Bowdoin College as opposed to systems of classism in our nation.”

Going forward, the sessions will tackle questions about ableism, feminism, xenophobia and citizenship. There is no racial equity session, as the entire College community is expected to attend a Racial Equity Institute (REI) workshop, A Groundwater Approach to Racial Equity. The last workshop will look at how these different social issues intersect.

“Right now, these are the eight identity areas that we’ve been talking about on campus,” Stern said. “The last workshop is on intersectionality … [aimed at] thinking about how these concepts impact each other,” Stern said.

The next workshop, aimed at understanding and challenging ableism, is scheduled for Monday from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at 24 College.

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