Classism and Our Campus: What Smith is Doing to Fight Back

Jocelyn Proietti ’16
Contributing Writer

This past Sunday, the AORTA (Anti-Oppression Resource and Training Alliance) collective gave a workshop entitled “Uprooting Classism” in response to various ongoing class issues on campus.

“People are constantly talking about class but not in a formal way.” Caitlin DuBois ’13 asserts. DuBois explained why she felt the event, hosted by the Smith Students for Social Justice (SSJIC), was so necessary. A number of recent incidents have brought the issue of class to the college’s consciousness: from the backlash of the “Pearls and Cashmere” incident of last spring to Professor Kate Queeney’s recent letter in the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “Making Good on Our Commitment to Needy Students,” discussions of class, it seems, are being had all around us.

“It’s important to see how class is related to capitalism, how it’s related to racism, how it’s related to privilege,” said DuBois. That’s where the AORTA collective came in; their intersectional approach appealed to DuBois, as well as her desire to have the issue addressed in a comprehensive manner.

The AORTA collective describes itself as “a collective of educators devoted to strengthening movements for social justice and a solidarity economy.” The group also presents themselves as “work[ing] as consultants and facilitators to expand the capacity of cooperative, collective, and community based projects through education, training and planning,” and believes that “true change requires uprooting all systems of oppression.”

DuBois relayed to the Sophian her own struggles as a student coming to Smith from a working-class background and how she found both a voice and a community amongst her fellow work-study students. In her sophomore year, DuBois became involved in SSJIC’s subgroup, Students for Economic Justice, and their campaign to protect the benefits and job security of the dining hall and housekeeping staff, a campaign which led her to even greater class activism.

Through networking with a number of alumnae, DuBois became familiar with the AORTA collective, and out of that connection, the workshop came to fruition. DuBois also cites the recent loss of one of Smith’s class organizations, Smith Association of Class Activists (SACA), as another reason why the workshop was so crucial. Previously, SACA provided a space for low-income, working class students and allies to discuss the effects of classism on them and on the Smith community as a whole. In many ways, this workshop aimed to provide a similar space.

A variety of topics were discussed at the “Uprooting Classism” event, ranging from the effects that capitalism has on interpersonal relationships to the implications of financial aid forms, through which students must prove to the college that they are deserving of financial assistance and what that means with regards to privacy. With over 70 percent of Smith students receiving some type of financial assistance, the topic was relevant to many students on campus.

All in all, the workshop was viewed as being a success. A total of 64 people were in attendance, making it the largest event ever held on the topic of class in Smith’s history. A follow up workshop will be held by SSJIC this Sunday, April 7 at 1 p.m. in Campus Center Room 003.

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