The Committee on Diversity Affairs (CODA) hosted a conversation in Sankofa house about class and classism last Wednesday, April 22. The conversation was the first collaborative Sankofa/CODA event of Spring Term.
According to the Lawrence University website, CODA is a “subcommittee of LUCC [Lawrence University Community Council] which helps represent all student identities in the decision-making processes.” Sankofa, opened in 2014, is the Black Student Union’s formal group house.
Approximately 50 people attended the event to talk about how class and classism affects their Lawrence experience. Senior Eli Massey and junior Jaime Gonzalez facilitated the larger group discussions, focusing on the importance of questioning the class structure itself.
They gave attendees a brief overview of student financial aid at Lawrence, mentioning that 98 percent of students receive some type of financial aid. About 25 percent of Lawrence students receive Pell grants, a form of need-based federal aid.
Large group discussion centered on a series of pictures that Massey and Gonzalez displayed. Students then broke off into smaller groups for more intimate discussion before returning to share their reflections with the larger group.
Small group discussions allowed students to share their personal experiences with classism. For example, students expressed disappointment at the stigma associated with working certain jobs like Bon Appétit or Facility Services.
Others shared stories about having to work multiple jobs to support themselves during the school year and how this situation leaves them feeling isolated from others on campus.
In the final moments of the conversation, Massey and Gonzalez encouraged people to question assumptions about what it means to be rich and poor, to think about why people belong to certain classes in the first place and to continue the conversation with their friends.
Reactions were positive, with attendees offering a hearty round of applause at the end of the conversation. Junior Manny Leyva, a resident of Sankofa house, attended to support his housemates, but got a lot out ofthe event.
“I think these conversations are very important,” said Leyva. He added, “it was very eye-opening about my own standing and made me question my privilege.”
Freshman Will Gill attended due to his own personal interest in the topic. “Class is defined by more than just money. Gender, ethnicity, sexuality, location, employment, race, speech and so many more factors go into determining what it means to belong to a certain ‘class’ of people … there’s no escaping it…”
Gill added, “The most important thing I got out of it was an increased sensitivity to the importance of class.”
CODA chair and senior Brienne Colston said that CODA started hosting Sankofa house conversations because “there was a need to have basic conversations that address different social justice issues on campus.”
Colston explained that the talks are open to all Lawrence students. “I’m really hoping Sankofa conversations is something that Lawrence students, regardless of major, regardless of identity, regardless of socioeconomic class or race, feel like they can contribute to,” she said.
CODA aims to host three Sankofa conversations per term. The next conversations will focus on sexual politics and ableism.