May 2016 Archways

In/Visible

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For the second year in a row, the Bryn Mawr College community came together to participate in a Community Day of Learning. Regular classes were canceled for the day, and offices were closed so that students, faculty, and staff could take part in the more than 40 workshops, lectures, and other events centered on the theme of “In/Visible: Class on Campus, Class in Our Lives.”

The February 23 event included an opening session that brought together the entire campus and a closing session with guest keynote speaker Helen Gym, a recently elected member of the Philadelphia City Council who has been a tireless advocate for improving Philadelphia schools and who is committed to reducing poverty levels in the city.

In opening the day, President Kim Cassidy talked about how the event was intended to build community by bringing together individuals who might not otherwise interact with one another. It was, she added, in keeping with the College’s mission to “educate students who will be active and informed citizens” and an attempt to “extend that mission to all of us who make up Bryn Mawr.”

Cassidy spoke about the class systems inherent in college and university settings, the country’s history of trying to downplay the significance of class in obtaining the American dream, and the role of class issues in the current presidential race.

“I hope that the conversations we have today help support dialogue and learning, rather than more polarization,” said Cassidy.

Sessions were led by everyone from a first-year student to tenured faculty and ran the gamut from an interactive exercise in which a giant cake was used to represent income inequality to a StoryCore session, and more traditional lectures. There was also a toiletry drive for the People’s Emergency Center in West Philadelphia.

Xavia Miles ’16 attended English Lecturer Matt Ruben’s session, “Class: What Is It Really, and Why Does It Matter?”

“Class isn’t who you are or a number that you learn,” Ruben says. “It is fundamentally how you relate. It is fundamentally a way of being and how you relate to one or more groups in society. These big ideas might seem abstract and even a little bit boring, but they are absolutely determinant of the lives we lead.”

Commenting on her experience in the session, Miles says: “I wanted to clarify my own notions of class and think about how class is lived, perceived, and actualized in my life. The whole presentation was so well put together. Matt Ruben is a wonderful instructor and scholar. And I loved listening to others’ input and hearing all their life stories and experiences.”

Emmett Binkowski ’16 attended “Class, Intersectionality, and Mental Health,” led by Assistant Dean Rachel Heiser, Director of Counseling Reggie Jones, and Provost Mary Osirim.

The session leaders touched on the high cost of care, complex and limiting health insurance systems, and biases on the part of health care professionals as a few of the structural barriers that block health care accessibility for marginalized populations.

Binkowski says, “I thought this session was really great because people shared their personal experiences. It’s really nice to have all these people in a room together listening and valuing that honesty.”
In closing the day, Gym encouraged the crowd of Bryn Mawr community members to join together in order to make change.

“Organizing starts with what you did today,” she said.

Tess McCabe ’16 was among the many students who attended Gym’s speech. She says that Gym “framed our Community Day of Learning not as an isolated event, but as a starting point. The fight against classism is both a day-to-day struggle and a political movement.”

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