New Class Action group seeks to institutionalize conversations about class

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

After the second annual Class Awareness Month, the organizers of the month are transforming the event into a permanent chartered group to better serve their needs as an organization. This shift could even be seen as fulfilling their original mission. As Rory Sykes ’08 said, “part of our goal was always to make the conversation about class institutionalized.”

They made this decision for three primary reasons. First, it will be easier to get funding for Class Awareness Month when it is sponsored by a chartered group rather than an ad-hoc committee. The organizers have relied on funds from such varied sources as the Forum for Free Speech, academic departments, the Intercultural Center, and the Lang Center in the past, but with a charter, they will be able to get much of their funding from SBC.

Secondly, the group wants to do more long-term projects. They primarily want to improve resources for working-class and first-generation students on campus, including the creation of a support group for such students affiliated with the Intercultural Center. Continuing the Class Storytellers project that was started last academic year is also a priority; the group hopes to make more “class stories” available in a student publication and eventually to put the entire collection of oral histories in McCabe.

The group also hopes to hold events throughout the entire year instead of just during Class Awareness Month: as the agenda for the first meeting stated, “Class should not be an issue that people only think about one month per year.”

What will this mean for Class Awareness Month? After the second CAM was held this fall, the organizers noticed a fall-off in attendance from the first year. Sykes explained that “Swarthmore students get jaded very quickly… freshmen formed a large part of our audience this year.” To combat the perception that the month reproduces the same conversations each year, each month from now on will have a theme such as Race and Class, Gender and Class, or Academics and Class. Also, the month will have fewer events in the future. Putting so many related activities in such a short time span tends to burn people out by the end of the month, but with an institutionalized group, there will be an opportunity to have class-related events throughout the entire year.

At the first meeting, there was a lot of support for creating a resource guide for working-class and first-generation first year students. There are some problems with this approach–one attendee pointed out that many first-years come from a place where everyone is the same class and that they may not yet identify as “working-class.” There’s also the danger that some students could feel condescended to by specifically working-class resources, although such issues would only be an option, and would not be forced upon anyone.

That said, many first-years do feel the need for such support, as Sykes attested to from her own experience. “I was a first-generation students, and I really didn’t know what a dean was, or an academic advisor… if you’re not familiar with the idea of college as an institution it’s difficult to function within it.” The group also wants to work with the administration to make a stronger effort to reach out to working class students and better understand their issues. Sykes said that many working class students have “had their issues brushed off as being irresponsible or lazy when it’s actually a class issue.”

Some of the ideas for this first-year resource guide included making a list of faculty and staff willing to serve as resources for students with working-class-related or first-generation related concerns, giving out information about academic supports, and setting up a recurring dinner for first-generation students. It was also suggested that training about class issues could be part of RA training.

The Class Action group will be holding biweekly meetings at 5:30 on Tuesday in one of the small rooms in Sharples. If you’re interested, feel free to e-mail rsykes1, mcase1, or cfloyd1 with any questions.

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