Panels to discuss class issues | Talks aid socioeconomic dialogue

The newly formed Intercultural Affairs Council will sponsor a series of panels addressing issues of socioeconomic bias in the coming months, Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry told the News this week. Details for the panels have yet to be finalized, although University administrators said they hope to hold the first before Thanksgiving break. University administrators and students serving on the IAC said they hope the panel will encourage dialogue on the realities of social class at a university that houses some of the world’s wealthiest students alongside many from low-income backgrounds.

“At times, students [from less-advantaged backgrounds] can experience, for example, a sense of not ‘fitting in’ and other stresses not shared by most of their suitemates or other peers,” said Kirk Hooks, a member of the IAC and the University’s special assistant to the dean of student affairs for intercultural and intergroup relations. “Ideally, we would like to ensure that all Yale students are aware of such realities.”

While the topic of each panel — social class — is clear, specific angles on the issue have not been decided, administrators said, because the panels are still very much in the planning stages. Indeed, Gentry said he had not yet formally invited faculty to serve on the panels, although he said private discussions with professors had stimulated faculty interest in the series.

The panels represent the first initiative sponsored by the IAC, a body formed over the summer to “support an inclusive and diverse campus environment that engages in community dialogue,” while promoting cultural awareness and challenging bias on the basis of social identity. The Dean’s Office sponsored a similar series of panels last year in the wake of repeated incidents of anonymous hate speech on campus. Those discussions examined the topic of hate using several different academic methodologies.

University administrators said the panels on class bias are not a response to any class-related incidents on campus. The IAC is sponsoring this series because a growing percentage of Yale students come from less-advantaged backgrounds, Hooks explained. Katrina Landeta ‘10, a student on the IAC, said recent and proposed transformations to financial aid policies are drawing more attention to issues of class bias.

“Because of this past year of drastic change in financial-aid policy and the talk about changes that might be imposed by the Senate, it shows that the way we envision socioeconomic classes is changing, especially at universities,” she said. “Yale is a place we all pay to attend and that is an issue of socioeconomic class and higher education.”

Gentry said that while he doesn’t expect people to abandon their biases overnight, he hopes that, in the future, they reflect on the messages of the panel.

“I don’t expect us to change people’s minds in with just on panel,” he said. “We want to plant an idea in their head, and we hope that in the future they will remember some of the lessons of the panels.”

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