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As training for RAs often varied year by year and across specific staffs, it is also
important to note that these degrees of engagement with social class varied. Echoing
Guillame, Leah noted the change in discussions of social class over the two years she
served as an RA. She had taken a gap year mid-college to engage in an AmeriCorps
VISTA position in a nearby city; when she returned to campus and the RA role, she
noted, " I was an RA two years ago before my gap year, and [social class] wasn't really
talked about too much, but this year they have increased their social justice training a
lot. " While social justice trainings didn't inherently include discussions of social class
and classism, the enhanced commitment to social justice in the department provided
an opening for working-class RAs to proactively address the topic. Both Leah and
Bugsy spoke about implementing specific initiatives with residents related to campus
resources and financial literacy. Similarly, Nia and Guillame worked with fellow RAs
to improve working conditions and increase wages. Thus, while social class was at
times absent from social justice conversations, participants found ways to integrate
class into their work.
More complicated, even when social class was actively discussed, there could still
be a disconnect in how fellow RAs and residential life staff acted in response to class
and classism. As Leah shared, " At times, I think it's theorized a lot, but in practice, it's
not really. I think that's where I get a little frustrated, with the disconnect. " Leah went
on to share examples of other RAs who frequently planned activities with residents
or even staff activities that relied on money to participate, effectively excluding working-class
students who could not afford the cost.
RA Positions Facilitate a Shared Focus on Work That Differs by Class
Prior research has found that working-class students often create spaces based on
shared values that they associate with their social class (e.g., work ethic, responsibility,
dedication) rather than exclusively looking for spaces with other working-class
students (Bettencourt, 2021). As social class can be both invisible and hypervisible in
higher education (Ardoin & martinez, 2019; Barratt, 2011; Martin, 2015), these shared
values serve as a proxy at times for difficult, dynamic conversations about class. For
participants in this study, the RA role often served as a hub for students at MU and CU
to connect around work and their work ethic. As Bugsy noted, " We support each other,
and we know we all have this job and we're all trying to get through. "
. . . while these positions focused on social justice and aligned with
participants' working-class values, they often contributed to the erasure
of working-class identities and the centering of middle- and upper-class
students. Thus, the burden often fell to RAs to speak up about
class equity even as they were experiencing classism.
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