David Karen on Wealth Inequality
For the second year in a row, the Bryn Mawr College community came together to participate in a Community Day of Learning. Regular classes were canceled for the day and offices were closed so that students, faculty, and staff could take part in the more than 40 workshops, lectures, and other events centered on the theme of “In/ Visible: Class on Campus, Class in Our Lives.”
The Feb. 23 day included an opening session that brought together the entire campus and a closing session with guest keynote speaker Helen Gym, a recently elected member of the Philadelphia City Council who has been a tireless advocate for improving Philadelphia schools and who is committed to reducing poverty levels in the city.
In opening the day, President Kim Cassidy talked about how the event was intended to build community by bringing together individuals who may not otherwise interact with one another and was in keeping with the college’s mission to “educate students who will be active and informed citizens” and an attempt to “extend that mission to all of us who make up Bryn Mawr.”
Addressing the focus of the day, Cassidy talked about the class systems inherent in college and university settings; the country’s history of trying to downplay the significance of class in obtaining “The American Dream;” and the role of class issues in the current presidential race.
“I hope that the conversations we have today help support dialogue and learning, rather than more polarization,” said Cassidy.
Sessions were led by everyone from a first-year student to tenured faculty, and ran the gamut from an interactive exercise in which a giant cake was used to represent income inequality to a StoryCORE session, to more traditional lectures. There was also a toiletry drive for the People’s Emergency Center in West Philadelphia.
Xavia Miles '16 attended English Lecturer Matt Ruben's session, “Class: What is it Really, and Why Does it Matter?”
“Class isn’t who you are, or a number that you learn,” Ruben said. “It is fundamentally how you relate. It is fundamentally a way of being, and how you relate to one or more groups in society. These big ideas might seem abstract, and even a little bit boring, but they are absolutely determinant of the lives we lead.”
Miles said after the session, “I wanted to clarify my own notions of class and think about how class is lived, perceived, and actualized in my life. The whole presentation was so well-put together. Matt Ruben is a wonderful instructor and scholar. And I loved listening to others’ input and hearing all their life stories and experiences.”
Emmett Binkowski ’16 attended “Class, Intersectionality, and Mental Health,” led by Assistant Dean Rachel Heiser, Director of Counseling Reggie Jones, and Provost Mary Osirim.
The session leaders touched on the high cost of care, complex and limiting health insurance systems, and biases on the part of health care professionals as a few of the structural barriers that block health care accessibility for marginalized populations.
“I thought this session was really great because people shared their personal experiences. It’s really nice to have all these people in a room together listening and valuing that honesty,” said Binkowski.
“Organizing starts with what you did today,” she said. “It’s the communities that are the backbone of political movements.”
Tess McCabe ’16 was among the many students who attended Gym’s speech.
“She [Gym] framed our Community Day of Learning not as an isolated event, but as a starting point,” said McCabe. “The fight against classism is both a day-to-day struggle and a political movement.”