Panel focuses on class

New Haven residents, University faculty and students gathered in Sudler Hall on Monday evening for “Dialogue on Class: At Yale and Beyond,” a panel organized by the Intercultural Affairs Council, the Yale College Dean’s Office and the Graduate School.

Acting Dean of Yale College Joseph Gordon moderated the panel, which consisted of Graduate School Dean Jon Butler, history professor Jennifer Klein, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Brenzel and Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry. The discussion covered topics ranging from changing historical class roles in America to a closer-to-home inspection of class relations at Yale and in the greater New Haven community.

A panel about class at Yale takes place Monday. Jon Butler, Jennifer Klein, Jeff Brenzel and Marichal Gentry spoke; Joseph Gordon was the moderator.
Meaghan Barr
A panel about class at Yale takes place Monday. Jon Butler, Jennifer Klein, Jeff Brenzel and Marichal Gentry spoke; Joseph Gordon was the moderator.

University administrators said the panel, which was a continuation of last year’s series of panels on hate, will set the stage for a yearlong dialogue on the topic of class and the various ways it manifests itself in the University community and New Haven.

“When [last year’s series] was over,” Dean Gordon said, “it was clear to many of us that one of the important issues that our panels had repeatedly gestured toward but not really explored was the issue of socioeconomic class.”

Butler opened the discussion, talking about the relationship between religion and class in America at points in history. Butler noted that conceptions of class are taking on different dimensions in modern America.

“In the 21st century, the idea of class has to escape its 18th and 19th century foundations,” he said. “Class can no longer be discussed in the way that Marx discussed it. It is a different time and different society. The word has different meanings and people behave differently.”

The discussion quickly turned to topics closer to Yale. Klein, whose research focuses mainly on labor and economic history, urged students and administrators to think about their interactions with the New Haven community not as “hierarchical projects of charity,” but in ways that try to include and empower disadvantaged residents while developing solutions for the city’s economic woes.

The remainder of the panel was primarily spent discussing class as it pertains to Yale undergraduates. Brenzel said he and his staff face difficult trade-offs during the admissions process in deciding how much socioeconomic and geographic diversity a class should contain.

“It’s a zero sum game,” he said. “If you tell me it would be wonderful to have more rural students, I’ll have to take less urban students.”

Gentry spoke last. He said students’ economic backgrounds might pose “obstacles that prevent entry into some of the more elite college experiences.”

Undergraduates in the audience agreed that class is an important and unseen issue. Sam Teicher ’12, who went to an inner-city high school, said that class is “definitely one of the biggest issues where people will tend to keep to themselves.”

But when Teicher asked the panel about concrete steps that students can take to resolve these issues, panelists were unable to present a solution.

“We haven’t figured out a way to have that conversation in the diversity of our community,” said Dean Gordon.

The administration is currently considering alternative ways to organize such conversations. Gentry said administrators are tentatively planning two interactive discussions on class, slated for January and March of next semester.

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