Social Innovation Fellows: Rie Ohta '13.5


$ocial Classmates ($C) is a semester-long, not-for-credit workshop that aims to create a safe space in which Brown students may constructively explore social class. The workshop aims to de-stigmatize and demystify social class through inviting students to question their social class, the privileges and disadvantages of their class, and issues of class and classism, through engagement with students of different classes.  Despite the salience of the subject, $C does not have a prominent campus presence thereby limiting the reach of its transformative power. My project is threefold: to research student experience of social class at Brown, to transform $C to meet the needs found in the research, and to begin a greater conversation around social class at Brown through expanded programming.

Personal Statement

In a sentence, I am an upper middle class, mixed-race, queer, international woman with plans to make a career in international development.  I have also been, for many years, distinctly uncomfortable talking about social class, though my social class identity and the way I engage with people of different social classes is central to my work. This is why I participated in $ocial Classmates two years ago, and why I have continued to be involved in the workshop ever since. My social class is now the one identity I am still not comfortable with, the one I get the most self-conscious talking about, the one I have yet to come to terms with.

How could I, a citizen of two of the richest countries of the world, ever really know how to help someone who is not just from a developing country, but who is marginalized even within that country? How could I possibly help ease suffering I have never experienced? And if Audre Lorde is right, and the Master's Tools cannot bring down the Master's house then how can I, a product of the masters tools, break down systems of oppression?

I don't have an answer. But I know I am not alone in asking these questions, and I know that I cannot sit by and not do anything.  If I am not brave enough to face these ethical dilemmas, then how can I expect any other privileged person to? If I can't turn my privileged status into a way to fight the oppression of the disadvantaged, then really, what use is caring?

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