Mae Carlson, a senior English major, former SGA secretary, and member of the “Storytelling:A Celebration of Class” RFP Winning Project, wrote the following reflection on the group’s story telling event:
On Thursday, Febraury 23rd, we (Yong Jung, Tina, Rebecca, Priya, and Mae) hosted an event in Rhoads common room called Bedtime Stories as part of our Class Dismissed? project: Storytelling: A Celebration of Class. We invited faculty, staff, and administrators to share how they’ve thought about class in their lifetimes. We wanted the event to parallel the bedtime stories tradition that takes place during hell week where seniors read stories to the other students in their dorms before calisthenics. We liked the idea of extending the tradition of senior members of the community sharing their stories right after Hell Week has finished.
Our participants were President Jane McAuliffe, Dean Michele Rasmussen, Professor Elizabeth Mosier ’84 in the Creative Writing department, and Michaile Rainey from the CDO. We asked participants to respond to the question “at what moment in your life did you feel different in terms of socio economic class?”
President McAuliffe was the first to speak. She remembered what it felt like to win a scholarship to attend a high school in an affluent neighborhood. Her father didn’t believe in higher education for women and refused to pay for her to go to school. She lived at home and worked to pay for her tuition. She talked about what it was like to work at restaurants where her friends ate and noted that at that time it was possible to have a job and be a student.
Dean Rasmussen described how her dad worked for the New Zealand government when she was younger and her family lived in a rural middle class neighborhood. Her father was transferred to the United States and their family moved to Bel-Air, California. The NZ government paid for her family’s home and her and her brothers schooling. She liked to write when she was younger and wrote a story about a girl whose father was a British diplomat and whose family led a wealthy lifestyle. After her mother read her story, she believed Dean Rasmussen was subconsciously writing about herself and not a fictional character, and made sure to tell her that they were not rich. Looking back, Dean Rasmussen believes it was important to her mother that she did not think she was rich because her mother’s parents came from humble means and she wanted her to appreciate that they’d had to work for things.
Elizabeth Mosier talked about different jobs she worked when she lived in Phoenix, Arizona. She described working as a maid in a hotel and having to wear a too short mustard colored maid’s uniform. She remembers one day in particular when a man came out of his room and asked her if she would be willing to come back later. She said she felt outraged that a man felt he could sexually proposition her because she was a maid, and that she also felt privileged to be able to feel that outrage.
Michaile Rainey spoke in a series of vignettes about class difference as her grandmother, her daughter, and she herself experienced it. In one of her stories she described her experience going away to college and having a housekeeper in her dorm, working in a similar position as her grandmother. She felt uncomfortable with her housekeeper cleaning her room when this was the same job that her grandmother had performed for other people. In her last story, she described the feeling of having lunch at Wyndham earlier that day and how it reminded her of all the ways that the definitions of class boundaries had changed.
At the end of the participant’s stories, the students who came to the event and the participants had a conversation. Students shared their stories about class difference in their lifetimes. Students noticed that those who have been more privileged often feel as though they can’t share their experiences and how that fact has stunted conversations about class on campus. We also discussed cultural differences in terms of the ways that families that have immigrated to the U.S think about class.
It was great to hear the stories of the participants and to hear the organic responses of the students in attendance. Those who attended the event felt comfortable sharing their experiences in a non-judgmental setting and celebrating the ways we are the same and the ways that we are different. At one point, Michaile Rainey noted that sometimes it’s difficult to incorporate certain aspects of our experiences into a story that we communicate and that making sense of what class means for us is an ongoing project – hopefully this is a project that the Bryn Mawr community can continue.
Come to next Monday’s Culmination Extravaganza to hear more about the bedtime stories event and their Bubble Extravaganza!