Bijan Torabi ’10 Researches Effects of Class on Lives of Andover Students

Bijan Torabi ’10 believes there is a lack of attention to the issue of socioeconomic class and cultural capital on the Andover campus. Torabi presented his findings on class and cultural capital at Andover in a CAMD presentation as a part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day programs on Monday. He defined cultural capital to be anything attained from belonging to a certain class. Torabi conducted his research this summer. He also randomly surveyed 61 Phillips Academy students regarding socioeconomic class and cultural capital at Andover and in the world. Torabi said that Andover is a very homogenous environment because it takes a certain level of cultural capital to be admitted. Torabi notes that socioeconomic class is not equivalent to cultural capital. “Class is a measure of one’s status in society and is largely a function of income and wealth. It’s often called the unaddressed member of the Big Three: race, gender and class,” said Torabi. He added, “You can tell what [people are] wearing and what language and vocabulary they use. You can have all the money in the world but no cultural capital [and vice versa].” “Class is so hard to pinpoint,” he said. His research demonstrated that wealth can be easily detected, but is not equivalent to cultural capital. Torabi said the most important part in comprehending an individual’s cultural capital and class is learning the decorum of cultural capital, which includes manners, diplomacy, nuances in language and vocabulary. He said diplomacy and nuance play an important role at Andover, as some students are well versed in cultural vocabulary. Torabi surveyed students for his presentation to get a sense of how well they understood the concept of class. “[The group] had an intuitive grasp on cultural capital, even if they didn’t completely understand the topic,” said Torabi. Torabi asked students what class they most identify with and found that the majority of the students identified themselves as middle class. “One thing that troubled me about the answers was that [the Andover tuition] is about $40,000, and 44 percent of the students are on financial aid. 56 percent of the group identified themselves as middle class. Students may not exactly know where they are on class [spectrum],” he said. Torabi also asked students how much they felt class affects their lives at Andover, and if they felt class is a problem in the Andover community. Two-thirds of student responses showed they did not believe class was a problem nor did it pose significant issues. However, when asked about the importance of clothing on campus, responses demonstrated that students believed that clothing had a large impact on the way a person is perceived. Torabi asked the group how often they felt they had to hide their class, and 33 percent responded that they never concealed their class. Torabi did not agree with the results of his survey based on his personal experience in the PA community. He felt that the students were not being completely honest in answering the questions. “I see people covering up where they come from. I cannot bring myself to believe [the results],” he said. Torabi’s research led him conclude that cultural capital is an extremely valuable asset. “Cultural capital can help you succeed and get ahead, and it can be taught and learned,” he said. “[We have] a very white-collar environment, where harmony and conformity are encouraged. [Students are] expected to be polite and politically correct,” he continued. Torabi described some other effects of class, including entitlement, or “the belief that one is deserving of certain privileges.” “Studies have found that entitlement is based wholly on class and upbringing and has nothing to do with the individual. Regardless of whether entitlement is the right thing or not, it’s invaluable in terms of getting ahead,” he said. The audience agreed that cultural capital is a problem at Andover but not something that is always easily noticed or recognized. Jack You ’10, another CAMD scholar who attended Torabi’s presentation, said, “[Torabi’s topic was] fresh and appropriate for Martin Luther King, Jr. day.” “The whole point of the Martin Luther King, Jr. day theme is to raise awareness of social issues, not just about racial issues. That’s what Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for,” You continued. Thomas Kane, Instructor in English and Torabi’s faculty advisor said, “I think it was a very successful presentation in illuminating cultural and social capital – the ‘what you know’ and ‘who you know’ that undergirds class issues. This school is built as an engine to cultural and social capital, and [Torabi’s] presentation allowed us to reflect on that.”