Opinion

Dealing with elitism and classism: being working class at Mac

I never thought it would be so hard to come here. So many times I have wished that I had never transferred, that I could turn the clock back to that fateful day when I decided to leave the University of Minnesota (“the U”) for Macalester, but unfortunately I’m in too deep now and that’s why I’m writing this.

I cannot even begin to describe to all of you how much classism and elitism there is at this school, but I will try. As a working class student whose parents never went to college, I am part of the 11 percent of first-generation college students that go here. What does that say about how we really “listen to others’ viewpoints” at Mac?

No, I am not blaming you, Macalester students, for this is not your fault. It is the fault of a system of wide-scale oppression that dictates who has access to quality education (especially higher education) and who does not. It is just simply ironic that Macalester students are ignorant to classism and elitism when ignorance is everything they fight against. I’m sure I’m about to lose you since you probably feel insulted, so now I’m going to give a couple examples of things that have been personally said to me or that I have unfortunately encountered in classes.

This week, I was in one of my sociology classes and someone raised their hand to ask the professor a question. Naturally he obliged and they asked, “Don’t you think that people who go to vocational schools, as opposed to those who go to liberal arts colleges where they are educated in the classics, are less able to develop complex thought?” I sat there fuming with anger at what they said and had already come up with a response to it. I refused to show my anger at them because I am aware that when people approach one another with anger they are less likely to truly listen to each other. I raised my hand and responded, “I don’t think going to vocational school has anything to do with having complex thoughts. I think that someone who goes to a vocational school is just as likely to have complex thoughts as someone who goes to Macalester.” After I said this comment, the class resumed its prior discussion.

Now, I don’t know what you’re thinking, maybe you see nothing wrong with their question or maybe you feel as disgusted as I was to hear it, but either way I’m going to explain why it is hurtful and classist. You see, when you say things like this, it means that you actually believe them.

It means that you actually believe that people who go to vocational schools (who tend to be of a lower socioeconomic status) are less capable of complex thought. It means that you believe that my family, none of whom have gone to college or vocational school, cannot have complex thought, that my mother is stupid, that my step-dad is stupid, that my brother is stupid. It means that people that I’ve decided to associate with as friends are stupid for becoming a cosmetologist, a cook, a mechanic, a construction worker.

By the way, if you weren’t already aware, it’s also classist because many of the jobs that people get after they graduate from a vocational school will not necessarily guarantee them an easy, middle class life.

Another example shows up in the comments I receive for having gone to the U like “I bet they grade harder here than at the U,” or when even professors make claims to their students about how liberal arts colleges offer a higher quality education than a public university. I always knew that I’d miss the U, but I never thought it would be because I feel I have to defend myself here every day, defend my family and friends every day and ultimately defend an entire population that comprises millions of people here in the United States.

It’s sad that I even defend the food at Café Mac, not only because I actually think it’s good, but because so many of you do not recognize how lucky you are just to be eating. You have an entire staff of people that have a median pay of $10.00 an hour, but show up every single day to ensure that you can eat, so that you can live, and so that you can be successful in whatever you do. Yet many of you still leave things like plates and napkins everywhere instead of just picking them up yourselves. I’m not saying you need to kiss the ground you walk on, but start trying to combat the classist and elitist things your peers say. I know many of you are unable to recognize classist things as they are happening, so I suggest simply listening to the stories of working class folks when they decide to share stories with you, like this one. This article wasn’t meant to shame the entire campus, but to shed light on an issue that is not talked about. I hope you are really listening to what I’m telling you.

February 13, 2015

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