Commentary: Time for Class Discussion

Spend a weekend at a ski resort. Take a spontaneous shopping trip to New York. See your family for the first time in weeks. Long weekends are great opportunities to do all of the above. In my experience, they are also great opportunities to discover the wealth of my classmates.

This long weekend, my Snapchat and Instagram feeds were peppered with photos of ski vacations, trips to Boston and New York, and reunions with family. It’s always nice to see classmates having fun, but as a student who does not come from such a financially privileged background, it can feel alienating to see classmates affording such lavish expenses.

This is not to reprimand students for enjoying their long weekends through vacations with friends and family. It is unrealistic and hypocritical to ask students to stop posting vacation photos, but these students should be aware of the privilege their economic status affords them and consider how their photos may be perceived. The example of the long weekend is only indicative of a larger problem: the scarcity of conversations about socioeconomic status on campus.

The class disparity between Andover students can manifest itself in brands of winter apparel, summer plans, houses, and even sports. Unlike higher-income students who have the luxury of ignoring or brushing aside issues of class, middle- and low-income students feel the impact of class every day. For instance, when going downtown, I always have to consider how much money I have left from a monthly stipend. I cannot afford to get food from Starbucks or Susie’s every day, but there is often no way to tell my peers that without facing an awkward explanation.

Coming to Andover from a middle-class background was instantly jarring. Back home, I was labeled as the girl going to a “rich-kid school” when I was accepted to Andover. At Andover, however, I felt left out in certain conversations because I couldn’t talk about my summer on the vineyard or my summer program at a top university.

Students do not seem to be unaware of financial issues; unfortunately, they do seem unmotivated to discuss them. 48 percent of students receive some amount of financial aid at Andover, and 13 percent of students have a full scholarship, yet class is a seldom-discussed topic. Addressing class is vital in order to embrace intersectionality in our community, as it plays into other essential aspects of identity, such as gender, race, and sexuality. Of course, it can feel uncomfortable to acknowledge the privilege (or lack thereof) that comes with socioeconomic status, but this is an essential step in creating a welcoming environment for all at Andover.

As a student body, we must facilitate more conversations about class. Out of the Blue held a forum on class last December, but when sensitive discussions such as this one are opt in, many students who need to discuss the topics tend not to participate. In order to prevent this self-selection, administrators should encourage these discussions by inviting All-School Meeting speakers to discuss the topic or incorporate these ideas into Empathy, Balance, and Inclusion (EBI) classes. For instance, students in EBI recently did an activity in which they wrote down facets of their identity such as ethnicity, sexuality, and socioeconomic class. Instructors could build off of the ideas of class and perception of class and foster a discussion on the topic.

The subject of wealth is inherently uncomfortable, especially for teenagers who have little control over their economic standing. Still, these topics are necessary to address. While these dialogues would not eliminate class distinctions, they would increase awareness and reduce insensitivity surrounding the topic. Students with lower-income backgrounds would hopefully feel more comfortable with their economic situation and place at Andover. No student at Andover deserves to feel alienated because of such a fundamental aspect of their identity.