Grappling With Class: An Unspoken Divide
Published: Thursday, March 15, 2012
Updated: Friday, March 16, 2012 16:03
For Comen, Petersen, Wright and Zimmerman, GSP has been crucial to adjusting successfully to campus life, whether through resume reviews, etiquette trainings, interview practice or support over school breaks, when many low-income students can’t afford to head out of the District.
While programs like GSP and the Community Scholars Program — a Center for Multicultural Equity and Access initiative that provides support to racially, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse students — help participants of varying backgrounds adjust to Georgetown, students and faculty cite a lack of campus awareness and dialogue on the matter.
“Unless you’ve actually lived it, you can’t understand what it’s actually like to be poor,” Wolfenden says, later adding, “I think it gets to a point where you realize, pity would be so impossible to deal with that you’d rather just not talk about it.”
The feeling of embarrassment or discomfort can go unspoken for many students of affluent backgrounds.
“Do I apologize for the wealth that my parents have? I feel guilty about it a lot of time because I feel like I didn’t do anything to deserve it,” says Anusuya Sivaram (SFS ‘12), an upper-middle class student.
Heydemann sees the discomfort and the gaps in understanding as a communication issue, one that stems from the stigmatization that can accompany conversations about class at all points of the socioeconomic spectrum.
“We as a community really lack the language to talk about class,” she says. “We don’t understand what the word working class, middle class means. I think we need to build the vocabulary.”
For Sivaram, this discomfort can stunt the conversation.
“The fact [is] that there is this difference, and I can’t do anything to solve it without creating more discomfort,” she says.
Becoming more sensitive to the relevance of socioeconomic status — in many cases an invisible piece of students’ Georgetown experience — is essential, according to Heydemann.
“If we don’t make a conscious effort, a sustained effort to pay attention to the little ways that class issues seep into our everyday lives, there’s no way that Georgetown can really become a place that opens its doors to everyone,” she says.
Grounded by his roots but open to different perspectives, Petersen says he has seen cross-class conversation transform his Georgetown experience.
“It’s helpful to all of us to interact across these classes and divisions we have, because it humanizes the stereotypes and the caricatures that are always given to us.”