Concord Academy students are no strangers to work about social justice and equity. Our school works tirelessly to make sure all of its students feel at home and are part of a welcoming community. As students, we are lucky to have the opportunity to interact with others of all races, genders, religions, and backgrounds. Discussions in and outside the classroom and our community are enhanced every day by the school’s diversity and by community members’ acceptance of one another. I find that, while the school likes to think of itself as a utopia of acceptance, it has one prevalent flaw in particular: we do not, or at least very infrequently, talk about class. 

We take great pride in the boundaries that are pushed in many conversations like those about race and gender. Although these discussions are beneficial and important to us all, we cannot continuously speak of some issues while we blatantly ignore others. While it is true that the discussion about money and financial situations can be an uncomfortable one, we cannot tiptoe around it when we constantly pat ourselves on the back for having conversations about other uncomfortable topics. If we are empathetic and determined enough to have difficult conversations about race for the good of our community, we should be able to do the same for socioeconomic class. 

Private education is expensive. This is not a secret, and CA is no exception. With boarding student tuition of $64,240 and day tuition of $51,455, not including the extra average of $1,100 spent on books and other expenses, there is no denying that money matters at CA. Finances matter a lot because, as we all know, wealth or lack thereof is not only portrayed in how much we pay for school. Money is also shown by the clothes we own, the food we buy, the equipment we have, and virtually everything one owns and uses in their day to day life. 

With students coming from all over the world, and from all types of backgrounds and familial situations, it is inevitable that financial situations will vary greatly from student to student. Some students attend CA paying full tuition, while others pay much less. This can create a rather large divide between students, even within friend groups, as having little money can alienate students among their wealthier peers, and extreme financial differences can make students stand out in ways they are uncomfortable with. Conversely, it can also bring unwanted attention to wealthier students who are just trying to be a part of the community like everybody else.
Comments made towards people with more money are typically even less filtered and can be just as rude as the ones pointed at those who do not at CA.  Issues of money and class are seen as more of a “forbidden” subject than one we are encouraged to talk openly about, and this can lead to students struggling to fit in, feeling even more uncomfortable and distanced from everybody else. The silence surrounding the topic creates distance between students instead of creating community. Though this is nobody’s intention, and the majority of CA students do not intend to make others feel inferior or estranged because of their class, that is not enough. We need to stop acting passively. We can do so by opening up discussions that push us to be aware and empathetic, and these will allow all of us to get out of our own heads and educate ourselves on a potentially new topic. 

Class is somewhat discussed, yet a fundamental issue we face as a community every day, and I am not the only one who feels this way. Because the basis of every discussion like this one depends on the voice and initiative of the community, I am deciding to start our conversation about class here. To enforce my ideas, and bring in as many voices as possible, I asked whoever was willing to be questioned about their own personal views and experiences with class at CA. 

Below are my questions and the student’s answers to them. Not everybody’s responses lined up perfectly with my beliefs,  but they all were strong and interesting opinions. Because everybody’s voice matters in a communal issue like this one, no response was left out. 

The conversation about issues of class begins with students like these, who have strong opinions and experiences to share, despite the fact that time and time again, they were never given an opportunity to tell them. I encourage the members of the community who take the time to read through this piece, to reflect on their own experiences with this issue and the ways in which it affects our whole community. 

Maybe then, CA will finally begin to talk about class, and we will all come closer to being the welcoming and connected community we strive to be. 

  1. What are your thoughts about the way CA handles issues of class?
  2. In what ways does class impact your day to day life at CA?
  3. In what ways are you or your peers negatively impacted by class differences?
  4. Would you like our school/do you think it is necessary to talk more about being respectful of different financial situations, and aware of class diversity within the community? 

[Responses lightly edited for clarity]

Student #1: 

I’m on financial aid, and, coming to CA, the biggest culture shock was and still is the amount of wealth around me. Coming from the middle class, it often feels like some alternate dimension attending a school prevalent with so much wealth. I think what bothers me the most though is when my wealthier friends feel the need to dumb down their wealth in front of me. There is nothing wrong with being rich. There is nothing wrong with owning multiple estates and having successful parents. But to dumb it all down in front of me, explicitly saying that you’re “not that rich” is annoying. It shows that 1) the person is ridiculously unaware of their privilege 2) this person thinks that if they say otherwise, then they’re flaunting their wealth to me. This feels condescending rather than sympathetic or “modest”. There is a difference between flaunting and simply stating what is true when necessary.

Student #2: 

I think that they do a pretty good job of explaining the issues of class to students. For instance, striving for equity, although it doesn’t only pertain to class, can have a lot of meaning in that category. 

I like going out to places like Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks with my friends. However, when I do things like that, it limits my spending for things that I actually need. Well, everything costs money, so that limits us in what we can do, like going on outings to the mall or into Boston on the weekends. Or going into extended campus every day during frees or after school.

I think it would be helpful if CA students got a clearer understanding of what is hurtful. Saying things like “I’m so poor” or “I’m broke” when you can’t afford a $100 pair of shoes (just an example) can be very hurtful to someone who is actually struggling in their financial situation.

Student #3:

 I feel like class is an issue that isn’t talked about at CA. We have discussions about everything: race, the LGBTQ+ community, and gender, but we never talk about class issues and the intersection of class with all of these issues.

To me, I feel like, without discussions of class, we are missing out on a lot of the discussions that we have. I guess in my day to day life, it can get rather frustrating when someone tries to talk about issues regarding race and gender, but by leaving out class, you’re missing a big part of that conversation.

I personally don’t know how to describe how my peers are affected but from what I gather, it can be tough for FA [financial aid] kids to feel comfortable when these issues of class are being ignored. More or less, it feels like they are put in the spotlight when talking about these issues when people of middle and upper-class can opt-out of discussions. When we had the talk on billionaires, for instance, I thought it was a step towards talking about the issues of class more.

Student #4:

Class rarely impacts my day to day life. I am hyper-aware of the fact that class is prominent within the student body of CA. But that presence of class is never emphasized to the point where I notice it when doing classwork or school. However, I do notice it among friends. Otherwise, I think this is a good thing.

Negative impacts can simply be a lack of resources or a stressful mental state. The less money I have means fewer clothes, or less food at Cumbies, or worse technology. What comes with the mental state can be new to some. For me, I grew up where there were mostly only lower and middle-class people. So being overwhelmed by the number of upper-class students at CA was difficult to get used to. However, I am not bothered by other people’s wealth. I think the ability that my classmates and I have built to adapt to our situations is a skill that improves our livelihood.

I don’t think that CA should teach about class. Everyone knows what class is and to what degree they know it doesn’t really matter. Everyone knows about money and resources and how class affects the amount of those things that people have. But what does matter is that people acknowledge the struggle. Everything that lower-income families did to the same degree as higher-income families is extremely impressive and took sacrifice. If more people at CA didn’t take everyone’s achievements for granted, it would create a more sympathetic and respectful community.

Student #5:

I feel like CA doesn’t address class at all. We talk about issues of race and gender but the nuance of class is never mentioned. At least within our grade, friend groups are unintentionally defined by class. I often feel implicit judgment between friend groups based on class. I wish CA faced the tensions of class that exist within the student body. I feel that if class was openly discussed, it would get rid of the stigma and exclusion between classmates.

Student #6:

I think CA does a rather bad job talking about issues of class for a school that claims to be “woke.”

Class doesn’t impact me on a day to day basis, which I think is a problem because as a community it should affect all of us or none of us. You can see friend groups form around class, which is sad and frustrating and also somewhat understandable based on the ways society works. We’re all negatively impacted by the lack of class diversity. Without class diversity, we can’t claim to be diverse.

I wish CA would talk about this desperately, but this doesn’t mean just looking to the kids with the least or most money to speak. It means giving more budget to financial aid, and it means supporting these students to the best of CAs ability.

Student #7:

I think class is one of the issues that CA talks about the least, even though we have a student body representing a fairly diverse range of income levels.

On a daily level, there isn’t one thing that impacts me, although as an upperclassman, it has been interesting to watch the shift in transportation, as quite a few people I know now drive to school in cars gifted by their parents. This isn’t a bad thing, but it’s certainly not something you see every member of the day student portion of a grade able to do.

I remember freshman year was really interesting because the one thing that everyone wanted to do was to go out and buy food, and not everyone could do that all the time. As an incoming student, it was not ideal to feel a need to decline social opportunities due to a lack of options that didn’t require money.

I think it’s really important for CA to be more active in helping the student body be more aware of class diversity within the community, as it’s an issue I’ve never felt CA has.

Student #8:

I think CA handles issues regarding class in a silent way that really does nothing to prevent the same issues occurring again and again

Class doesn’t just impact my life at CA, it also impacts my life in every way. Class is a defining characteristic and even at a welcoming and progressive school like CA, it is difficult to feel as though you are normal in terms of class. There is such a wide range of classes at CA, but, generally, CA has lots of families in the upper-class, and that is a bit intimidating and feels as though it is hard to keep up at times. With that being said, the fact that I can attend CA just goes to show how fortunate I am for any student with the financial needs to cover tuition is well above the majority of the country.

I think, in the CA community, the biggest issue with class tends to be the lack of awareness brought to it. We are in a socioeconomic class bubble at CA, and we almost never break the bubble to acknowledge what it is like for lower classes. CA is pretty narrow in its view of class and it is a subject that NEEDS to be discussed more, for not everywhere is as privileged as Concord Academy and Concord. 

[Discussing class] is a life skill that everyone needs, and CA needs to improve its education on the matter.

Student #9:

 I think, for the most part, CA focuses on financial aid kids rather than full-pay kids. In other words, the way CA works with class is to try to make FA kids feel included in rich kid activities by giving them money, rather than trying to help rich kids learn about how to include FA kids themselves. The money they give is amazing, but I would like to see them make the rich kids think about class because from what I see, they don’t have to, and that’s really where the inequity lies: when I’m thinking about money constantly, but there are people who don’t have to.

 I think the biggest impact has been the constant hyperfocus on money and class that I’ve come away with. I didn’t even understand what class really was before I was at CA, and now, it’s my frame for everything – in some ways, this is really awesome because I get to think and write about it, but in some ways, this is really bad for my health because I learned it in such a personal and kind of traumatic way instead of from people teaching it to me.

I think feeling isolated has been the biggest negative impact that class and specifically, my time at CA and Columbia, has created. I don’t feel like I belong to my low-income community at home anymore, but I don’t feel like I will EVER belong to the wealth & elitism that these schools stand for, so often I feel like I have no community and nobody I can trust and not compartmentalize myself with

I think CA should definitely talk more about class. Especially in a way that is focused on teaching rich kids and letting poor kids off the hook in terms of educating.

Student #10:

I think class at CA is by far one of the most taboo and difficult to talk about topics at this school. From an administrative standpoint, I don’t think that enough is done to truly talk about class issues at CA, and personally, I would like to see more work done in that area. I think that it almost entirely comes down to students deciding to lead discussions and conversations about class. For the most part, I think that the CA student body is comfortable in dealing with issues like socioeconomic status, but it just requires the necessary platforms and formats in which we can hold these conversations. 

As to how my peers or I are affected by class differences, I think that is a personal question that differs for every person. I do not think that I could speak to how my peers are negatively affected by class issues. 

Class for me personally doesn’t necessarily impact my day to day life, it is more of a subconscious thing that may pop up from time to time. Especially at a private school like CA, I think that students tend to forget just how privileged we are to attend this school. 

Student #11:

 I think that at CA, we could do a better job talking about class more constructively. Especially with the new changes to financial aid fundraising, I think it’s important that we begin having more conversations about class, and how it shapes student experiences at CA. 

I have noticed, as have many of my friends, that people from higher socioeconomic classes at CA act in a very entitled manner. They tend to dominate conversations, given people from lower classes less time to talk about their experiences. Higher class students tend to feel entitled to this extra speaking time in class. The other major way I have seen class affect daily life at CA is in the clothing trends and other popular things at CA. Take hydroflasks for example, or Lululemon leggings, or Brandy Melville, or AirPod pros. These are a few of the things that allow people at CA to be seen as “popular,” but they are all very expensive, and most of the students who can afford these items are part of the upper class. This makes students in lower classes, who can’t afford these items, feel less popular than their peers. This social system is based completely on wealth, which I see as very inequitable. Through using this social structure, we are actually promoting class divides and inequality. 

 I think we should definitely have more conversations about class at CA to help people understand how inequitable our social structures really are. However, these conversations will only be successful if the whole community contributes.