Category-Consciousness

While thinking about this week’s readings, I realized that our Writing Center takes demographics on race and gender, but not sexuality or socioeconomic status. Why? Are these categories “less relevant” in characterizing the writing process and/or the Pomona academic discourse? Do these questions make students feel uncomfortable? Wouldn’t learning more about the sexuality or socioeconomic status of students who visit the Writing Center allow us to make it a more inclusive and comfortable space?

I will focus on SES more than sexuality because I feel like I am better able to talk about SES. I agree with Bielski that SES is often harder to see. Assumptions—whether positive or negative, correct or incorrect, implicit or explicit–about race or gender are usually made when we first see someone. However, SES is easier to hide. People are surprised when I talk about identifying with the Quest community (which includes low-income and first-generation college students), but not when I talk about my identity as a Korean American. I apparently don’t look or act like I’m Quest, whatever that might mean. I don’t think I’m actively trying to hide my socioeconomic background, but it seems to be less obvious than my Asian and feminine physical features.

I’m also not sure how much my SES directly influences how I write. For example, my Korean American identity changes how I explain concepts; I often use a more roundabout or nondirective approach instead of getting straight to the point. However, I never thought about how my socioeconomic identity changes how I write.

Unlike Bielski, I was very lucky to have what I consider a well-informed high school education. Although my family is working-class, my high school was in an upper-class neighborhood with many resources and students with the goal of pursuing higher education (and families to support them in their endeavors). Also, my teachers were very dedicated to their subjects and effective in the classroom. I was able to learn what the dominant English academic discourse should sound like through my white, male, upper-class, abled, cis-gendered, heterosexual English teacher (although looking back, his classes pushed many of us to reject or exclude different aspects of our identity in order to fit the dominant discourse). Therefore, I never viewed my SES as a significant influence in my ability to read or write.

However, I am a special case. Most students who come from lower SES families do not get the privilege of attending a good high school. And maybe that’s the problem. It’s hard to identify trends within and across SES categories because each individual’s experience and spectrum of identification are different. But, shouldn’t this be true for all aspects of identity? There are so many nuances even within racial or gender identities. Is there a commonality between all students who identify as Asian American that is more apparent than students who identify as upper-class? What you yall think?

One thought on “Category-Consciousness

  1. “Most students who come from lower SES families do not get the privilege of attending a good high school. And maybe that’s the problem.”
    Yes. I want to touch on this point because I think it’s important. I also went to a public high school with predominantly wealthy students that averaged a ranking of 33rd out of all 262 schools in British Colombia, Canada over the last five years. I went there because of an enriched program that I had gotten into, but it meant I had to commute a fair distance there and back. In comparison, the school nearest to me has averaged a ranking of 226th out of 262 over the last 5 years. I am fairly certain that if I had gone to the nearby school, I would not be at Pomona now. But the fact is that at the school I went to, I didn’t know anyone who was financially worse off than me, and I still grew up living what at least I consider to be fairly comfortably-ish (even if partially because my parents concealed their financial anxieties as much as possible). In our schools, we were exceptions to the rule, and though it may not have seemed like our SES backgrounds prevented us from making it to Pomona, on a more general level they prevented (and continue to prevent) a hell of a lot of folks from having an opportunity like this one. So I think this is where the anecdotal experiences of Pomona college students doesn’t really inform us of the bigger picture, which requires us to look beyond the colleges. Because most students from lower SES backgrounds not only don’t attend good high schools, they also don’t attend elite colleges like Pomona.

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