At this week’s VCIC Diversity Dialogue Day forums, high school students explored the ways that class/socio-economic status affects their school experiences.
Whether it is homework assignments that require expenses, or school traditions that have associated costs, or peer pressure related to clothing and school lunch, participants expressed that class is the source of many divisions in their schools and communities.
However, the students also said that they don’t have opportunities to talk about class. Perhaps that’s why some were uncomfortable even reflecting on their own class backgrounds. It’s likely why many were not aware of the wide disparities in wealth and income that exist locally, regionally, and nationally.
And it is why participants said they often found themselves relying on stereotypes about other classes rather than actually interacting with peers across class lines. For example, see the word clouds at the top of this post that reflect students’ responses to the first three words that come to mind when asked to describe “Upper Income,” “Middle Income,” and “Lower Income.” Their answers on their conference registration forms were striking.
As we reinforce frequently at VCIC programs, we can’t authentically address what we don’t discuss. That means students and schools need to have the harder conversations about why individuals have very different educational experiences solely based on class. It is our hope that the Diversity Dialogue Day programs gave students the knowledge, motivation, and skills to lean in to the uncomfortable conversations and bridge some of the real and perceived divides that exist across class lines.