Class Awareness Month Pushes for Concrete Action

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.

Class Awareness Month (CAM) began on Monday with a closed discussion for working class students. There will be an analogous discussion for students who identify as part of a “privileged class” today at 5 PM in the Intercultural Center, and those are just the first events of an entire month devoted to raising awareness around class issues.

Speaking to the issue of the “working” and “privileged” split in the dialogues happening this week, organizer Madeline Case ’09 said that “we understand those two categories are loose and not everyone fits … but we had three groups last year and it was not as successful.”

“We’re very excited about a panel of professors speaking on class and race in the 2008 elections,” said Rosario Paz ’10, one of the organizers, on Thursday at 4:30 in the Science Center. “It’s going to be five days before Election Day, and we knew that one of the themes for this year’s CAM was going to be the presidential elections…what’s the language they’re using to appeal to voters, what are they talking about when they talk about Joe the Plumber.” She added, “The concept of the American Dream has been coming up so far and we hope that comes up again in the panel.”

Case explained that “class and civic engagement is the theme of the first two weeks…after that it’s a jumble of class things that we thought were useful, a lot is based on feedback from last year.”

Case and Paz were both very excited about the spoken word event planned for Friday, November 7. Paz said, “the first time we had that was last year, and that was really well received because we had Eva McKend [’11]…this year we’ll also have students that the campus community is familiar with, and that should attract a lot of community support.” The 3 X A Lady Crew from Bryn Mawr and spoken word artist Ill-Literacy will also be performing.

Kavita Hardy ’09, another organizer, explained that “while other events are more academic, this is another way to engage with the issues that is just as profound.”

The biggest change to this year’s CAM is that for the first time, there will be a petition that students can sign in favor of two actions that could be taken by Swarthmore to improve life for working-class students. Case explained that this was “based on feedback that people wanted an outlet to build upon, action-wise…these are both issues that came out of last year’s dialogue.” Paz specified that “Erin Heaney [’09] came to us and told us that when she was at the student panel at the beginning of last year’s class awareness month, she felt like a lot of this issues could be addressed by simple actions like petitioning.”

First, there will be a petition for departments to have a seminar break fund so that students don’t have to pay out of pocket, and second, a petition to have a more steady supply of up-to-date textbooks in the library, so that students won’t be forced to buy the latest edition to do their classwork. Case said, “we’re not trying to be confrontational … we really want to start a conversation with the library and the departments.”

At the end of every event, students will have the opportunity to sign fake dollar bills declaring their support for the initiatives. “We’d like to be able to say, ‘We’ve raised 500 dollars in support,’ or something like that,” said Hardy.

Case said that there are already some plans forming for next semester. “We’re working with Allison Dorsey of the history department to bring a labor historian to speak about the first racially-integrated union.” If there is ongoing interest, “we’d like to have a cross-class dialogue sometime next semester as well.”

Paz is hopeful that events will be well attended. “With the economic crisis, and also seeing the financial aid concerns that have been raised recently…it’s a very pertinent issue to focus on these class issues locally on campus as well as outside.”

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