How social class affects social life

Zella Lezak, Guest Writer

Ever since I got to The Urban School of San Francisco, I have always been impressed with the way we deconstruct parts of our identities, such as gender, sexual orientation and race, in and out of the classroom.

However, the socioeconomic status of students does not seem to get as much attention outside of the classroom. Particularly when the attention concerns where students fall on the financial class spectrum and how that spectrum affects day-to-day lives.

Yudi Feng (‘20) said, “I don’t think that [social class] is talked about enough and in the way that it should be.”

Urban’s Dean of Equity and Inclusion, Clarke Weatherspoon, has created an affinity space for students who are on financial aid. Being able to openly discuss my experience of being a student on financial aid throughout our discussions and hearing other student’s perspectives, allowed me to see aspects of student’s lives that are often hidden.

Clarke Weatherspoon commented, “It’s important for students to be able to learn more about how socioeconomic status impacts our experiences in school and beyond. We want students to talk about how this impacts them. Not thinking about this component of life can make going to a school like Urban harder… The more students can authentically share about their experiences, the more effective they can be about letting [the staff and faculty] know how to best support them. This goes for all students.”

In addition to the new financial aid affinity space, Multi-Culti, a cohort of affinity spaces at Urban, organized panels to discuss socioeconomic status during the Month of Understanding in January. Furthermore, Urban is diligent about making sure that all students can afford prom tickets and school trips by providing financial aid for these events. Although Urban provides aid for some of these after school events and creates a platform to talk about them in classes like Sophomore Service Learning, the school does not have the ability to ensure equity in all aspects of Urban life.

 According to the students I had the opportunity to talk with, the way that clothing and accessories reflect socioeconomic status was a main source of insecurity and stress.

“So many people wear such expensive clothing, individual items that I just can’t afford… I feel super insecure about that,” said Jade Barnblatt (‘18).

Sophia Stephens (‘20) who self-identifies as upper class added, “I am conscious of my class as I get dressed, what I am putting on and if I am wearing any brands or nice jewelry. I don’t like to wear things that exemplify my class because I don’t want it to seem as though I take my privilege for granted.”

Xela Vargas (‘20) also felt the pressure of the socioeconomic standards at Urban and added, “I feel like outside of school there’s a lot of pressure to participate in certain activities that not a lot of people have the wealth for or the luxury of doing, like music festivals or trips.”

But the stigma around social class extends beyond appearances. Barnblatt said, “It seems like everybody has some sort of guilt from wherever they fall on the [socioeconomic] spectrum.” Unfortunately, social class is rarely discussed in a way where people have to confront the stigma precisely because there is so much shame and guilt around this topic. Tara Kamali (‘19) commented, “I feel like social class is talked about at Urban but it is talked about in a way where people aren’t forced to confront whether they are upper class or lower class.”

How can we make social class an easier and less guilt-provoking topic to discuss at Urban? How can we talk about how class affects the social lives of Urban students?

Barnblatt suggested that everyone at Urban should participate in “a U-period, or something that is required during advising. It really needs to be structured, not just like a free-form club discussion, because [talking about socioeconomic status] does evoke certain feelings of shame and guilt… we need to preface every single discussion about it [by saying] ‘The only way that this is actually going to work is if you are honest because no growth can happen unless you are fully honest. Not just with everybody else but also with yourself.’”