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“Real Talk on Class”: College Houses attempt to cultivate student awareness on class divide

October 28, 2022

Kate Padilla

Editor’s Note October 30, 2022: In a previous version of this article, the “Real Talk on Class” series was mistakenly called the “Real Talks on Class” series. This has been fixed in the headline and throughout the text.

For one hour every Sunday night, College House residents gather in student-facilitated conversation to discuss a variety of topics specific to Bowdoin culture. This upcoming weekend marks the second week of several conversations part of the series “Real Talk on Class.”

What started as an intergroup dialogue for campus student groups is now an opportunity for all students to discuss class in more intimate settings. In 2019, Sam Brill-Weill ’20 led an effort to promote conversations on class within the College Houses. Now a multi-week program, “Real Talk on Class” is facilitated by Associate Dean of Students for Inclusion and Diversity Kate Stern and Director of the McKeen Center for the Common Good Sarah Seames as well as several student leaders including Abby Bennitt ’23 and recent graduate Lily Sage ’22.

Stern addressed several of the program’s goals, acknowledging that students are entering the conversation with a myriad of perspectives.

“The real goal is to have an opportunity for College House students to think about and talk about socio-economic class, both within [and outside] the house,” Stern said. “I anticipate that people will come at it from different places; people will have had different experiences.”

Facilitators hope to open the space for thoughtful discussion on socio-economic status, a topic which has historically been met with feelings of tension, anxiety and, oftentimes, dismissal.

“[The goal is] just helping people to break the ice around these topics, so that they are less taboo [and] also feeling like everyone can participate openly and honestly,” Bennit said.

Both Stern and Bennitt noted that the conversation is an opportunity to discuss difficult topics in a supportive and affirming environment.

“I wouldn’t call it a curriculum or a lesson, [and] it isn’t a learning objective. It’s really just a conversation to get a dialogue going,” Stern said.

The hope is that students, after conversing in small groups, will be more comfortable entering a larger, campus-wide dialogue.

“Hopefully, [students] can continue those conversations on their own, [beyond] their College House,” Bennitt said.

Communities across campus  provide crucial openings to discuss these topics, cultivate deeper intragroup understanding and encourage further conversations in a variety of settings. In the future, the program plans to include athletic teams in discussion.

“A lot of the programming that comes out of [Stern’s] office, is just to help build a really strong base of people who are comfortable having these conversations and starting dialogues about these kinds of complex topics,” Bennitt said. “From there, just helping [students] become more social-justice minded.”

The program also aims to address class issues regarding visibility and invisibility on campus and provide tools to most effectively tackle these issues.

“I know students who [have] talked to me about being very well-off financially, who wear thrift store clothes and not name brands. And I also know of students who work all summer long to get the fancy coat so people don’t know they don’t have a lot of money,” Stern said.

Stern doesn’t want to force students to reveal personal information or participate in conversation if they feel uncomfortable. Rather, she wants to provide an opportunity for students to have open discussion as needed.

“I’m not saying people have to talk about [class]. I do believe that people have a right to choose privacy. I’m working to build a calm community where people can talk about it. But they get to choose,” Stern concluded.


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