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Op-Ed: Class Confessions on Campus

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The Stanford First Generation and/or Low-Income Partnership (FLIP) recently hosted a workshop where students of all class backgrounds were invited to discuss our socioeconomic status secrets and share ideas for how to move toward a more honest and inclusive campus community. Over 50 students showed up, eager to engage in Stanford’s first cross-class discussion space.

Before the event, we asked people to submit their “Class Confessions,” or instances in which they had concealed their class identities. We displayed these anonymous revelations at our workshop, where attendees could read and reflect on their peers’ class secrets. Here is a sampling of the more than 80 confessions, which were split evenly between students who identified as having class privilege and those who did not:

“When I was abroad, I pretended to be extremely sick because I wanted people to stop asking me why I couldn’t buy a plane ticket to explore nearby countries during a long weekend.”

“I use my knowledge about financial aid to pretend that I receive it when talking to friends and acquaintances.”

As we watched these anonymous secrets pour in, we realized just how serious the silence around class can be on this campus. These confessions demonstrated that although some students are confident in their class identities, so many of us – from every position on the socioeconomic spectrum – hide parts of ourselves that relate to money.

But our discussion demonstrated the desire that students have to move past all this secrecy and toward a campus community in which we can all be authentic and whole, especially regarding our class identities. We asked participants to generate “Ideas for Action” as they browsed the “Confessions” and reflected in small groups. In particular, we asked everyone to engage with one question: “What sort of barriers prevent you from being honest about your class background, and what can we do to overcome those?”

The group came up with amazing ideas for institutional changes that could impact cross-class relationships on campus. Students asked for more programming around class identities during New Student Orientation, as well as throughout residential staff training. Several attendees suggested that ResEd might provide more funding for dorm trips and off-campus cultural events, so that all students can be included regardless of their financial situations without feeling isolated.

We also reflected on ways in which we can work to combat the secrecy and fear individually, in our interpersonal relationships and interactions. Students suggested that we each recognize that class is everywhere, and that it defines our experiences here more than we might think. Yes, Stanford offers people the opportunity to move into new social classes. But our backgrounds will absolutely influence our lives in college – from weekend plans to career plans, as indicated by the “Class Confessions.”

One of the most important takeaways from our discussion was the reminder that we shouldn’t make assumptions about one another based on our relationships to wealth. It’s apparent that most of us fear the assumptions that others might make, so why should we perpetuate those as well? Let’s all commit to appreciating peoples’ values and experiences instead of the superficial stereotypes that we might ascribe to someone because of his or her class background. We won’t be able to share our class identities without judgment if we don’t let others do the same.

Finally, we learned that we can all change the culture around class on campus by speaking up about our own class backgrounds, by starting the conversation and encouraging others to join us.

We are so grateful for those who shared their “Class Confessions” with us, and we really feel for those who are carrying deep secrets.

But know that you are not alone, and that there is a community of students who are here to hear you out.

The FLIP Leadership Core

The Stanford First-Generation and/or Low-Income Partnership (FLIP) Leadership Core is a team of students committed to building community and providing resources for first-generation and/or low-income students and allies.