Class Action combats issues of classism

Students gathered in the College Center Multi-Purpose Room to participate in a program of classism and its role on Vassar's campus.
Students gathered in the College Center Multi-Purpose Room to participate in a program of classism and its role on Vassar's campus.
A class consciousness workshop met this past Saturday, Sept. 28, in the College Center Multi-Purpose Room. Here, chairs are used to illustrate income disparity in the United States. Photo credit: Spencer Davis.

Class can be a difficult issue to navigate, and one that is often compounded at highly selective colleges with a history of wealthy students. Vassar is one such institution, but it has made efforts to start talking about socioeconomic class.

This past Saturday, Sept. 28, the Students’ Class Issue Alliance (SCIA) hosted the Class Action’s Exploring Class on Campus workshop in the College Center Multi-Purpose Room.

Class Action, founded in 2004, is a small national non-profit dedicated to ending classism.

According to its mission statement, “Class Action inspires action to end classism. We raise awareness, facilitate cross-class dialogue, support cross-class alliances, and work with others to promote economic justice.”

In collaborating with Class Action to host this workshop, Vassar College was a participant in Class Action’s educational program, which works with high schools and colleges to help address issues related to classism in their institutions.

Over 20 students and faculty attended the workshop, which was only available to students who had registered in advance. As for the registration process, even though the available spots were capped,SCIA president Rocky Schwarz ’15 explained insisted that it was made available to as many students as possible.

She wrote in an emailed statement, “I’m happy with the registration process for the workshop and that all those who registered were offered a spot. Hopefully we will be able to bring more workshops to Vassar in the future, increasing participation and reaching more students, faculty, and administration.”

Many students attended as representatives for a variety oforganizations, including the Feminist Alliance, the Vassar Student Association and Poder Latino.

After going over the agenda as well as some ground rules—“be respectful,” “assume good intent”—the attendees participated in an ice-breaker event called Common Ground, in which they formed a circle and speakers called out various identities and living situations. If someone identified with that experience, they would enter the circle. The possibilities included being the child of a single parent, having access to a trust fund and being on financial aid, and many others.

SCIA member Hannah Schenk ’14 was particularly fond of this activity. She wrote in an emailed statement, “I found Common Ground to be a beautiful and effective way for us to establish trust within the group and to start taking the risks required to constructively explore our personal experiences with class among peers.”

After Common Ground, participants lined themselves up along a spectrum of different classes before breaking off into small caucus groups to discuss the benefits, disadvantages and general experiences of being within their specific class. The workshop wrapped up with a physical example of the disproportionate distribution of wealth within the United States, with one volunteer being given 70 percent of available sitting space, and the remaining nine the other 30 percent.

Ultimately, after a workshop that the organizers described as successful, members of SCIA are hopeful that this Class Action workshop will provide the push needed to make class issues more visible on campus.

Schwarz wrote, “SCIA consistently hosts discussion dinners centered around class issues and this presently functions as the main shared forum for class-specific dialogue on campus. Hopefully the workshop served as the impetus for continued dialogue and action. SCIA plans to collaborate with other organizations and identity groups throughout the school year to explore class in an intersectional context.”

Schenk was also satisfied with the outcome of the event.

She said, “Just talking and creating space to talk about class is a huge step towards reducing classism. We all have something to contribute to conversations about class, we just need the space to have these conversations. These conversations can then generate concrete action steps towards fighting inequality.”

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