November was Class Awareness Month. Events — including an interview with President Chopp, working/straddling class and privileged class discussion groups, and a spoken word performance — were held on campus to promote conversation across classes. According to Rosario Paz ’10, who helped to plan the activities, it is important to “recognize that class issues do not just affect the student community, but also concern other parts of the community.”
Class Awareness Month was first held at Swarthmore in the fall of 2005 and has since grown to be a tradition, with annual events such as the spoken word performance and a movie screening. This year, the Class Awareness Month events were organized by Kate Aizpuru ‘10, Hilary Pomerantz ’12, and Rosario Paz ’10.
“For me, CAM is about sparking conversation on campus about class issues, and giving people with class privilege the tools to be allies to people from different backgrounds,” said Aizpuru.
Interview with President Chopp
On November 5th, an informal discussion was held with President Rebecca Chopp in the Scheuer Room, during which she spoke on her experiences as a first-generation college student. The session began with an interview conducted by Paz and continued with a discussion that involved the faculty, staff, and students in the audience.
Chopp began by describing her childhood, saying, “not only was it not an aspiration [to attend college], it was frowned upon.” She went on to explain the difficulty she had during her first experience in college: “I might have well been on Mars.” After consulting a priest, though, she decided to take religion courses at a local liberal arts school. And once she got to graduate school at the University of Chicago, she realized “everything clicked.”
During the discussion following the interview, Chopp described her reasons for becoming an administrator in higher education, saying that education can “do for others what it did for [her].” She said that she hopes education will help students, especially those who are first-generation, to think critically about their pasts. According to Chopp, we need to “learn to be skeptical, not cynical.”
“It is liberating to see such a strong woman – one who really decided where she wanted to go in life and saw it through – as the president of Swarthmore,” said Ellen Sanchez ’13, who attended the lecture. “I feel a connection with her.”
Working/Straddling Class and Privileged Class Discussions
The Class Awareness Month organizers also promoted discussion about class issues during two separate forums: a discussion for working/straddling class students and a discussion about privilege.
Paz said that the privileged class group, which was open to all students, was well attended, but the working/straddling class discussion, which was only open to students who identify as being from these backgrounds, drew fewer students.
The organizers of Class Awareness Month have discussed the decision to close the working/straddling class group over the years and decided that a closed group would help to open discussion. According to Aizpuru, the organizers felt that working and straddling class students would feel more comfortable expressing experiences and concerns in a space open to only people who also identify as working or straddling class.
In the past, Paz explained, the privileged, straddling, and working class groups were all closed and met separately. The groups would then come together in an open discussion. However, the number of students in the privileged class group was much higher those attending the working class group, causing a lopsided dynamic during the open dialogue. “The class dynamics on campus made certain group voices a minority among others,” said Paz.
Last year, Class Awareness Month organizers found success in splitting the discussion into two separate groups that did not meet during the event. Paz said that both the working/straddling group and the privileged group last year received good attendance, making her question whether other events occurring on campus at the same time as this year’s working/straddling class discussion caused the low number of attendants.
Spoken Word Performance
On Friday, November 13th, six spoken word artists, including three Swarthmore students, performed original compositions in the Alice Paul lounge. According to the organizers of Class Awareness Month, the event was important to express class issues in a different format and to attract a variety of students who might not be interested in attending other class discussions.
From Swarthmore, Sean Bryant ’13, Joel Swanson ’10 and Tayarisha Poe ’12 performed. Artists J.R. Mason, Angel Jovan Perez, and Jasmine Hamilton came from Philadelphia to participate.
Other Class Awareness Month events included a textbook initiative forum, a movie screening, and an opportunity for students to work with the EVS staff for a night. “We also hope that concrete ideas for improving class-based issues on campus can also come out of discussions held throughout the month,” said Paz.
“They can only mean as much as attendees want them to,” said Aizpuru about the events. “Still, I hope that they got people thinking about how class influences their own and other people’s experiences at Swarthmore and in larger society.”