Class Confessions on Campus

by the FLIP Leadership Core

reading back

The Stanford First Generation and/or Low-Income Partnership (FLIP) recently hosted a workshop called “Class Confessions” 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 covered 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.
  • I bought a smartphone and pay for the much more expensive plan to fit in with the rest of my friends whose parents pay their phone bills.
  • My parents have an anonymous scholarship that pays for two students to attend Stanford each year, in addition to me. This year, they are 2 of my best friends. Because it’s anonymous, they have no idea that my parents are paying for them to go here. I’ll never tell them either.

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.

writingBut 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 “Class 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 to Tahoe 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.” As allies to those from other class backgrounds, it’s important to be sensitive and inclusive, thinking twice before inviting someone to a $20 meal, for example. $20 might seem like a little to some, but it’s a lot for others. We also discussed the importance of remembering that class is complicated, and that it is fluid and contextual.

HollyleadingOne 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. The motivation behind so many of these confessions was the fear of being judged — judged based on stereotypes about low-income people, as well as those about wealthy people. 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 people’s values and experiences instead of the superficial stereotypes that we might ascribe to someone because of their 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 waiting for others to join us. It can be terrifying, but totally rewarding!

We appreciated the input of those you who are actively making an effort to be more honest and open about your class identity. We are also so grateful for those of you who shared your “Class Confessions” with us, and we really feel for those of you 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. FLIP is a space for people who identify as first-generation and/or low-income and our allies to build community around a common motivation to break the silence around class on campus, and to challenge the “Us vs. Them” mentality that divides those with class privilege and those without it. Join us.

If you want to read more “Class Confessions,” please visit our Tumblr. If you want to get involved with FLIP, please follow us on Facebook and join our mailing list. Look out for our upcoming events, like next quarter’s “FLIP Your Perspective Week,” featuring a class-specific version of “Crossing the Line,” as well as a workshop that will prepare you to be a better ally to low-income students on campus. If you’re interested in knowing more about our efforts to incorporate students with class privilege into FLIP’s work, please contact Holly Fetter, our External Community Coordinator. And, if you want to ensure more quality programming from FLIP, please sign our petition for ASSU Special Fees!

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.

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One thought on “Class Confessions on Campus

  1. […] a FLIP event in February, Class Confessions invited students from all backgrounds to anonymously share secrets about times they attempted to […]

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