Latin’s Elephant in the Room

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By Anastasiya Varenytsya (Note: I’d like to thank the math department for teaching me some Stats 101; friends and teachers for all the organization, discussions, and brainstorming; advisors for sending out surveys; and students who answered the poll.) The Latin School of Chicago, in the heart of a diverse and loud city, promises to do everything in its interest to live up to the name “of Chicago.” Specifically, Latin strives to ensure a safe and non-discriminative place for all ages, abilities, genders, sexualities, races, ethnicities, spiritualities, and classes. But, when we consider aspects of Latin such as location, tuition, competitiveness, and the people the reputation attracts, we notice that Latin isn’t as accessible for all or as representative “of Chicago” as it claims to be. A lot of energy has gone into racial mindfulness at Latin. The Diversity and Equity Committee and Affinity Groups push for the representation of racial minorities through seminars and assemblies. It’s an active and effective approach to talk with students about a sensitive topic that is so valid and prevalent in the real world. Except, there’s an elephant at Latin that everyone notices yet doesn’t dare to discuss: class. Obviously class isn’t as blatant as race; you can hide how much money their parents make, but you can’t hide their skin. Still, socioeconomics has its way of stealing the show, from the clothes worn and cars driven to the zip codes lived in and the vacations went on. I’ve noticed in the two years that I have been at Latin how secretive the subject is, how defensive people get, and how extreme – yet subconscious – the divisions are amongst the affluent and not. I’m only one out of the entire student body, and I would be wasting everyone’s time if I kept this one sided. So, I ventured out to find out what other students had to say about something that, under Latin street code, one simply does not talk about. This past week, I sent out paper and electronic anonymous surveys to forty-six (10% of the student body) randomly selected students with a stress on diversity of zip codes. Out of those forty-six, thirty-one replied (thank you all again), and I have been advised by the statistics teachers that thirty participants is the minimum when seeking reliable, and worthwhile, data. The survey began with collecting the self-identified socioeconomic demographics of each student, followed by four statements they were to rate 1 to 5 (strongly disagree to strongly agree), and concluded with two questions they were to rate 1 to 5 (not at all to greatly). See the questions and results for yourself: DEFINITION OF SOCIOECONOMIC STATUS(SES): “an economic and sociological combined total… based on income, education, and occupation.” (Note: I’d like to thank the math department for teaching me some Stats 101; friends and teachers for all the organization, discussions, and brainstorming; advisors for sending out surveys; and students who answered the poll.) unnamed   unnamed-1   unnamed-2     unnamed-3   unnamed-4 unnamed-5 unnamed-6 Prior to the results, I expected to focus on how many relationships are never formed due to class differences. It seems as though the majority of friend groups at Latin are kids of the same socioeconomic status, especially the more affluent crowd. Rich kids grow up with rich kids. Rich kids party with rich kids. Rich kids go on extravagant spring break vacations with rich kids. This behavior isn’t only at Latin, and it’s definitely not something worth claiming negative. The dilemma, though, is when people feel limited to those they can be in serious relationships with because of a factor as superficial as the amount of money their family hassomething we as 14-18 year olds have absolutely no control over. But, the students said otherwise. After reviewing the questionnaire, majority voted “Strongly Disagree” when asked if they felt that “[their] socioeconomic status limits whom [they] can have platonic and romantic relationships with at Latin.” The same majority answered “Strongly Disagree” when asked if “[they prefered] to hang out with kids at Latin of same socioeconomic status.” Maybe we subconsciously attract ourselves to the same crowd to prevent any more tension, or maybe it really is other identifiers. Nonetheless, the poll presented worthwhile insight, and the biggest red flag I noticed was the result of the seventh inquiry. The seventh question asks participants if “[they] believe Latin makes attending school comfortable for people of all socioeconomic statuses” with a majority of 39% expressing “Not Enough.” Remembering the numbers of the first inquiry, these are the results of well-resourced students: 52% Upper Middle Classers, 35% Lower Upper Classers, and 6% Upper Upper Classers. The results were shocking because I assumed a lot of personal disconnect from the high-status participants, and yet, many agreed that despite the financial efforts Latin makes to cover all its students, it is still an uncomfortable space for many. This leads to more concern: Is it the students that create tension? Or is it the institution? How far are we, as a school, willing to go to soften that class division? When the topic of socioeconomic struggle arrives at other institutions, one argues that uniforms are a good start at blurring the lines between the rich and poor since everyone will be dressed the same. Another argument, pertaining to Latin, is taking away Project Weeks because it is a time when who has money becomes really obvious. But, lack of uniforms and Project Week are one of the greatest and most unique aspects of our schoolwe can’t dare to take those away! So, what do we do? I think where we should start is accepting our surroundings. Yes, there are families who send all three kids on full tuition for fourteen years, and yes, there are students who acquire full aid. There are students who complain about visiting Aspen yet again for another family ski trip and students who must work through winter break to afford prom. We shouldn’t take the amount of money students’ families make against them, and we shouldn’t presume wealthy kids of being insensitive and problematic (and white) and poor kids of being uncivil and complaint-full (and not white). It’s the first thing we learn in kindergarten: you judge people based on their personality. The next step might just be to start talking. We as a student body have good intentions when we keep quiet about the class divisions just so that no one feels targeted. But, it has become dangerously too quiet. Students are apologetic, guilty, or embarrassed for circumstances that reflect nothing on who they truly are as individuals. We’d be lying to ourselves if we said that class wasn’t an issue at Latin, and sooner rather than later, we must start addressing the elephant in the room. ]]>