Taking On Questions of Privilege

A response to Cromer’s Opinion Article of Feb. 10.

Dear Mr. Cromer,

The privilege which you ascribe to us collectively, indiscriminately, which you assume to be omnipresent in our considerations, values and ethics, is not so with all of us. Some of us here at Pomona College—I won’t say every one of us, nor the majority, nor even a lot of folks here—are experiencing extravagant privilege for the first time. 

It is intoxicating. I go to Collins for dinner and eat beef pho and hummus with pita bread, dishes I did not even know existed as a first-year. I lump a plate heavy with mashed potatoes, brown gravy and meatloaf, too; they remind me of home.

I partake of those seven-dollar beers at The Press as well. They often mean an hour of work-study jobs—handling washing towels at Rains Center, sweating over grills at The Coop or writing editorially-mangled pieces for The Student Life—this is how we pay for those soirées, some of us. For some of us, plane tickets to the Poconos are not forthcoming. For some of us, spring break is a hardship and means careful saving of money; the dining halls will be closed for at least a week. In these moments privilege does not mean free beer and tuna steaks. It means loneliness. Still, we save that money and go to those late night meet-ups at The Press. They mean a lot to us.

These opportunities to hobnob with elite progeny beget special opportunities. Some of us see that beer money well spent, for the chance to speak with a student whose father is starting a scholarship here; my mind fires memories of the Financial Aid notification and the commensurate joy of a $45,000 deduction to the cost of my future. 

We also are those who, unsurprisingly, unironically, are often endeared to causes of social justice. We seek to climb the social ladder and all the while stretch wrists downward for grasping: Appalachian hollers, inner-city squalor. We tend not to forget. We took our Section Three course requirements here and learned that Intersectionality means that all Oppressed are family. We tend to band together. We tend to give a damn.

I agree with you that life here is surreal. It pains me. It hurts to hear a friend back home has struggled through another Community College English class with a D+, while I check which free concerts I might attend this weekend. It is painful to wear a sweater bearing the name of that same junior institution and be asked at parties which thrift shop I procured it from. It is gut-wrenchingly sad to inform a friend while chatting that, yes, Rick Santorum was born in Winchester, Virginia, just down the street from us. He types back: “I need to leave.” “This place is suffocating.” I have. In all likelihood, he never will.

But this same pain, this need to face my fortune and my home, is the question that rings in my ears every sushi night, as I pile the bits of seafood greedily, perhaps with a rapacity not visible in every face, that question: “Why am I so lucky?” It is the same thing that prompts me to stand in picket lines. If I had to call it one thing, I would call it Yearning. The idea that what I have here at Pomona, as I sit typing this in ITS on a computer monitor of sci-fi proportions, is a gift and a responsibility. That’s why my current indulgence of financial privilege and my support of the fired workers is not ironic and hardly incongruent.

It is the idea that I think my Grandma had, why she left school at 13 and worked to bring home money to her dozen siblings, traveling every day to the city only to return every night to the old house in Goochland County. It is the same idea that I think led those of the generation before me to become a prison warden, a middle school French teacher and a Special Education teacher. We are by no means poor back home, but we remember what that word means. My parents live more comfortably than those who preceded them, and I hope I do end up with that comfy stock portfolio you talk about. But I know that my family role models, while wanting better lives for themselves, also strive earnestly, daily, in their respective professions, to open doors for others. I only hope to do the same as them, constantly, ardently, here with my studies. God, grant me the strength to do so.


Daniel Carlton, PO’13

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