Bridging Our Class Divide, Beyond the Virtual Realm

“There is
literally no need to discuss class. Once you arrive here, the college does
everything it can to make you on equal grounds as other students. You don’t
have it worse than me when you’re here, and that you keep falling back on your
low-income crutch to describe your own problems is honestly a little pitiable.”

So reads
a post on Claremont Class Confessions, a popular Facebook page that was
created in early August of this year.

A
collection of anonymous submissions about class issues at the 5Cs, the page
deeply unsettled me, an incoming Pomona first-year, at the time I discovered it.

The rest
of the submissions, which spoke of low-income students’ struggles at the 5Cs,
created an image of a covertly classist environment that didn’t fit with the
progressive institutions I had envisioned. While the majority of the online
responses were supportive of low-income students, the page’s existence implied
a less-than-tolerant class atmosphere. I realized Pomona was not an oasis of
acceptance in the desert, which it was reported to be.

This
atmosphere was confirmed when I arrived on campus.

The
classism I noticed in real life was more subtle than it was online, ranging from
stereotypes about the working or lower class to a generalized sense of animosity
toward those attending full-ride. Above all, I sensed a level of pronounced
apathy toward class discourse. Amid the mandatory discussions about race and
gender-based violence during orientation week, class seemed left out of the
campus-wide conversation.

That
being said, Pomona has done more on an institutional level than the other 5Cs to
foster socioeconomic diversity.

In
response to a February 2014 White House initiative, Pomona, among other measures,
has pledged to raise its number of Posse scholars in STEM fields, admit more
low-income and first-generation transfer students and continue to meet all of its students’ financial aid needs (a commitment it has upheld since 2008).

Additionally,
the college has pledged to raise the portion of Pomona students who are Federal
Pell Grant recipients (often regarded as a reliable marker of socioeconomic
diversity) from 17 percent to 20 percent. For their efforts, Pomona was named the seventh
most economically accessible college in the nation by The New York Times.

Scholarship
programs such as QuestBridge and Posse help support low-income and
first-generation students financially and socially. They provide safe spaces
for its students to share the pains of living in an environment incredibly
different from the one at home.

There are
also student groups, such as Real Talk at the Office of Black Student
Affairs, that promote dialogue among the marginalized at the Claremont Colleges
that is hard to imitate in a classroom setting.

Amid all these efforts, some questions remain: What else is being done to raise
awareness outside these communities? How can Pomona encourage students from all
socioeconomic backgrounds to engage in this class discourse? Does the
responsibility lie with the administration or the students themselves?

I believe that regardless
of whatever the administration chooses to do, it is up to us, the students of the
Claremont Colleges, to foster a sincere dialogue on class and how it affects us
all.

Admittedly,
as a middle-class student from a decidedly middle-class suburb, it’s difficult
for me to fully imagine the experiences of my lower-income peers. I don’t
struggle with paying for day-to-day expenses. I don’t face judgment from
my peers about my financial award package. I don’t
have to adapt to a painfully different socioeconomic culture.

However,
what one lacks in experience, one can make up in empathy.

Just as heterosexual, cisgender allies provide support to members of the LGBT
community, students from upper- and middle-class backgrounds can serve as
supporters for low-income individuals. These allies can recognize the
countless disadvantages that low-income students face and be open to listening
to their experiences.

That
being said, such supporters shouldn’t strive to ‘empower’ their low-income
peers (à la white-savior complex) but rather create a safe place for all individuals
to share their stories.

Doing so not only recognizes the varied
socioeconomic realities that exist outside the Claremont bubble but also allows for a richer college experience. By listening, we create
a school culture that allows marginalized individuals to succeed, which, in turn, benefits us all. For it is when we refuse
to silence the experiences of lower-income students that we can truly
live up to the promise of the Pomona College experience, in which all forms of
identity (racial, gender, class, etc.) are respected and
validated.

While
the creation of the Claremont Class Confessions Facebook page is a positive
first step, we can’t just relegate dialogue to the virtual realm. We need a
student body full of both low-income individuals and upper- and middle-class
allies to actualize the page’s goal of creating “more productive
class discourse amongst the Claremont Colleges.” 

Lauren Bollinger PO ’18 is an aspiring English and philosophy double major from Novato, Calif.

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