My Confessions on Class

Last spring, my academic advisor, Mrs. Davison, held a dinner for her advisees. We discussed the issue of socioeconomic class, and she asked us for our thoughts. Two girls candidly shared that they felt it was difficult for students who do not come from wealthy backgrounds to witness insensitive displays of affluence from their more well to do counterparts. Instantly, another girl and a boy sprang up defensively and argued that students who hadn’t come from wealthy backgrounds need to learn to get along with those who have. Without thinking, I made a sarcastic comment about how difficult it must be to be wealthy. The boy and girl yelped in indignation and, within a few minutes, the argument had escalated until most everyone at the table had something to say on the matter. Two things became very clear. First, that I needed to improve my understanding of other viewpoints on class, and second, that talking about class as a community was going to be a very heated and personal endeavor. This fall, Linda Griffith, the Dean of Community and Multicultural Development Office (CAMD), contacted me, along with a few other students, looking for testimonials on our experiences with class at Andover. I deleted her first email and dodged the second and third. Finally, at the end of a meeting with Mrs. Griffith, she asked me once more if I had anything to say about class. You cannot delete or dodge a Dean looking at you and asking you a direct question. I faltered. The truth was that I did not know how to share this particular part of my story. My origin from a working class family, living paycheck-to-paycheck, in several poor neighborhoods, is an integral part of the boy I was, the young man I am, and the man I want to become. When I finally formulated my opinion, I decided that what I had to say should be more than just an anonymous statement. Class is an issue that permeates each of our lives. If my statement were anonymous, an administrator or faculty member might be able to inaccurately speculate that class does not affect outgoing, community-minded students with a large support network. But it does. My father is a janitor and maintenance worker for the housing authority in my hometown of Lowell, MA. My mother is a lunch lady for the Lexington Public Schools. I am of the first generation of my family bound for college. My father dropped out of high school (though, much to his credit, earned his diploma years later). Prior to attending Andover, I went to an inner-city public school where teaching took a back seat to controlling unruly and oversized classrooms. My parents have never owned their own home and to this day live in a townhouse-style apartment they rent in Lowell. As a result, I have never lived in the same house for more than three years. Like many Americans, my parents accumulated large consumer debt early in their marriage and at one point claimed bankruptcy. I am on full financial aid. My books are from Text Exchange or purchased using vouchers at the Andover Bookstore. My spending money is a weekly stipend directly deposited into a bank account each Friday. Despite these truths, I will depart Andover in June with the cultural capital I need to succeed wherever I go in life. Salad fork goes on the left of the plate, but to the right of dinner fork. Summer is a noun and a verb. Squash is a vegetable and a sport. What all of this white cultural capital afforded me was the opportunity to “cover up” anything I perceived as a shortcoming on my own part. I was from Boston. But if you ask me where I am from now, you will likely get “I’m from the hood.” It was a biographical fact that has taken me a long time to express in my visible identity. Ultimately, if anything has separated me from my wealthy peers, it is my clothing. I do not own a blazer, cufflinks or a formal belt or trousers and I deliberately avoid events on campus that call for such attire. Just a few weeks ago, two mentors very dear to me gave me my first tie. I went back to the dorm and stared at it for a long time. I don’t even know how to tie the damn thing, but it’s beautiful and, more importantly, it’s mine. Andover loves talking about how it does not talk about class. It is not surprising that as a community we pointedly avoid the topic. The most uncomfortable implication of discussing the effect of class on our daily lives, as players on a stage of dramatic wealth and privilege, is that we must turn our sharp critical minds onto our own values, our own feelings, and our own lifestyles. This is not easy, but we have much to gain as constantly developing thinkers by leaving behind “comfortable” discussion topics and having fruitful conversations about the places we come from. Our origins affect our viewpoints and perspectives and color all the information we go on to learn. Moving forward, I hope students from all socioeconomic backgrounds are unburdened and inspired by my inaugural biting-of-the-bullet and share their own stories. We have much to learn from each other. Dominic DeJesus is a four-year Senior from Lowell, Mass.