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09/24/2019

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Anne Schultz

Thank you for writing this. Alethia.

Amanda

I wonder whether a lot of the experiences mentioned here really have much to do with being working class. Most people don't study abroad. It is the exception that does. Most students work during college:

https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/Press-release-WorkingLearners__FINAL.pdf

I also think it is incredibly common, actually, (I'd bet the overwhelming majority of undergrads) are scared to ask for help and fear looking stupid if they don't. Almost every professor I know has almost no students during office hours. This isn't entirely because students have other things to do. Those with "elite" parents might feel extra pressure to do well and follow in the family footsteps. Same thing with grad students: most grad students I know fear asking for help and fear appearing stupid. This is especially salient to me as I was the exception.

I was never scared of professors. I was never scared to talk to them or ask for help. And in spite of having almost no self-confidence in pretty much any other area of life, I was and am, perhaps a bit too self-confident philosophically. I never felt like I was ought of my league, or that persons were better than I was in any way. Yet both my parents were very blue collar workers. I started working when I was 11. I paid for my undergrad education (kind of, with loans, which most people do at least partly) I worked crappy minimum wage jobs during both undergrad and grad school. This very last summer 2019, holding a TT job, I moved out of my apartment so I wouldn't have to pay rent while I worked on a fellowship across the country, It was a move into my 25th residential addresses since leaving my parents house at 18, and I am under 35. All of this and I never had the fear of looking dumb or asking for help that *most* students have.It wouldn't surprise me if most TT professors have this fear. (although I dod think it is significantly. lower by that point.)

My point: I think the author is talking about real issues that many people face. These are worth a discussion, but I'm not sure how tied most of the issues are to being working class.I also think these sort of stories might unintentionally discourage persons suffering from imposter syndrome or related issues to get help. Why, because some who is thought to come from a "privileged" background is not supposed to have these types of problems, and so someone who already feels dumb fears feeling even more dumb because they are struggling in spite of their privilege.

The issues with credit cards and cars are more working class related, and ones I have discussed before, and one's nobody is interested in. I've just accepted that unless I get lucky and marry a partner with good credit, I will always be financially insecure, in spite of making a very good salary. Credit score is king in the US, and piles of student loans don't make things better. Maybe by full professor I can get out of it...maybe.

a philosopher

Thanks to Adriel for sharing her experiences. I think these are important things to be out there in the community.

I am working class -- although early career, not mid-career. I must admit I found some of the central themes in this post foreign. Despite being a first-generation college student, I never felt embarrassed to admit I needed help in a class or hesitated to go to office hours. I half lived in my professors' office hours, and that's probably all that kept me from failing several classes as a freshman and sophomore.

My class-related struggles were always social. As an undergraduate I commuted to a medium-sized regional state university. So I didn't have the traditional as-seen-in-movies college-dorm socialization experience. I was just some kid who showed up for class, did my work, went to work, repeat. When I finally got to graduate school, I didn't really know how to befriend people around the department. My extracurricular interests didn't align well with theirs, either. I didn't read novels, know literature or art, go to museums, etc. My family, growing up, watched football and went to church a lot.

Still to this day I often don't feel like I fit in well with many philosophers, whose out-of-work interests clearly still diverge from mine a good deal. So I maintain friendships outside philosophy. Of course, this isn't to say that I don't have plenty of good friendships in philosophy or always feel out of place, but if there was an angle where I feel my working-class background slowed me down (and continues to sometimes be an issue) it's the socialization.

a philosopher

I can feel in Amanda's post her frustration over the car and credit card issue, which has come up before. Not that she claimed it was, but I don't think this is a working-class issue either.

I guess part of the point of my first post is that there probably aren't many common experiences or problems to these broad categories like "working class". It just depends on the geographic area, your family situation, etc. Adriel's family and mine probably had comparable incomes, but hers clearly had more "culture". My family all held manual labour and factory jobs and we often went without even some of the basics, but had a lot of financial discipline. So I learned from them how to buy a car, open a bank account, and run a household budget at a very young age -- and now today I have great credit despite still fairly meagre income and a not trivial amount of debt.

Large swaths of people have credit problems of a basic sort like those Amanda describes. (There's a reason, after all, payday loans are a huge thing.) They cross all sorts of other racial and socioeconomic lines. It shouldn't surprise us that a good chunk of philosophers (graduate students, adjuncts, people with permanent jobs, and tenured people) fall into this category, and since these sorts of problems are so crippling, we shouldn't be as insensitive to them as we are.

(We also need to be realistic about philosophy salaries... that 50k/yr TT job at regional-U isn't putting your average now-former graduate student in great financial shape or giving them much financial freedom. It's typically just enough to move them across the country, get an apartment close to campus, and comfortably start paying down debt. It's also probably comparable to, or even less than what, a lot of skilled trade jobs pay, so we're not terribly far outside "working class". Many philosophy graduate students make below a living wage, and salaries after that rarely seem to do better than make the fallout manageable.)

Jason Brennan

Thanks for writing this.

I grew up "working class" too. I suspect, but don't know, that this is one reason why I've been pretty money motivated after grad school. I know what it's like to be poor and want to ensure I never want to experience that again. I want my kids to have the things I lacked and to never worry about money.

Amanda

a philosopher: I've thought about the kind of issues you mentioned a lot, and wondered if at least some of our ideas about privilege are far, far, too broad brush.

Imagine that someone is in a wealthy family with professor parents. However, these parents never spend time with them, never take an interest in their goals and their future. They do not teach them how to manage money, etc. And then compare that with a low-income family who has parents who spend a lot of time with them, teach them about finances the way your parents did, etc. Who is really more privileged? It is hard to say. The empirical literature suggests that having loving and caring parents who encourage you is a very significant life long advantage. But of course, it would be impossible to determine who had these backgrounds and it is easy, relatively, to determine classic measures of underprivileged.

Working class people are more likely on average to have financial issues. I know lots of people who got significant money from their parents during undergrads and grad school. Lots of others who got it from a spouse. But this is a very much limited picture. If I am being honest, my financial situation probably has much more to do with, (1) my mental and physical health, (2) my parental lack of mentoring, and (3) some really dumb early 20s decisions, then it does with the fact that my parents did physical and not intellectual jobs, or their overall salary. Interestingly, both my parents were amazingly fiscally responsible. They don't have a lot of money, but they manage it well, and there have been times when I borrowed small amounts because I was desperate (this was only after I proved to them that I wasn't screwing up as much as I did in my early to mid 20s.)However, tney never once talked to me about finances. They honestly thought it was obvious: don't spend money you don't have. Alas, as a young 20 something I had a 10k credit card, spent it all, and have never been able to get out of that debt. Which isn't that much, really, compared to my student loans at least, but with a 25 to 30% interest rate, amongst other life circumstances, it is debilitating.

In the end, we should probably all just be a little more sympathetic and helpful to anyway who is struggling for any reason. We don't know their story, and struggles come from all life situations.

Amanda

I'd also add that while everyone has struggles, I'm not saying they are all equal. Some people absolutely have more than others, and some people really are privileged. It is just very hard to tell who is who without knowing a lot of personal details that all so often, we simply can't know.

a philosopher

Just popping back in to say I agree with everything Amanda says above.

Jay

Thank you for sharing your experience. I'm a grad student from a working class background. It does not often occur to me to ask for help, and even if it does I usually feel like I'd rather die. For me this comes combined with a great deal of social anxiety that ultimately keeps me far away from professor's office hours. Not sure if I'll get over these things anytime soon, but it's good to hear from someone with a similar background fighting similar battles.

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