Is there Unity in Ignorance?





Anonymous, Sidwell Friends



One student on financial aid believes the answer is "Yes." (Published: 2017)





Image by Maya Robnett, Sidwell Friends '17



I am one of the 23% of Sidwell students on financial aid, according to Sidwell’s website, but that fact has not played a role in my social life. I have been here for over five years and I have never been asked about how much money my parents make; I have not heard anyone else be asked, nor have I ever felt compelled to ask anyone else a similar question. How much money my parents make and whether or not it is enough to pay the full Sidwell tuition has never been a topic of discussion among my friends. This is a positive thing.


In my experience, of all of the ways people are separated at Sidwell, the income of their parents is not one of them. It is possible for someone to attach labels to me based on my race or gender without knowing me personally, but my socioeconomic status does not become a label unless I offer it up. Someone who is unaware of my socioeconomic status is able to see me as an equal and not through the filter of my parents’ income. The culture of apathy toward socioeconomic status has been a benefit to everyone who exists at the school. People are able to make friends and socialize across lines set by things they cannot control, including the amount of money their parents make. When students are unaware of their friends’ financial situations, either by willful or unwilling ignorance, there is one less factor to potentially divide them because of stigma surrounding class, no matter how small it is.

In my case, all my friends know is the general size of my house, and I know the sizes of theirs, but not the specific details of their financial situations. Thus, I cannot begin to compare my situation, pass judgements, or make assumptions, which in a way makes our relationships more genuine. The way


"WHEN STUDENTS ARE UNAWARE OF THEIR FRIENDS’ FINANCIAL SITUATIONS, EITHER BY WILLFUL OR UNWILLING IGNORANCE, THERE IS ONE LESS FACTOR TO POTENTIALLY DIVIDE THEM BECAUSE OF STIGMA SURROUNDING CLASS."

I interpret it, part of my positive experience at the school has been because of the fact that I have not broadcasted my being on financial aid (which is why I see value in keeping this article anonymous).


If everyone’s socio-economic status were part of everyone’s implicit nametag, it would only invite conscious or unconscious prejudices. Openness about some things can lead to understanding and greater appreciation of diversity, but in the context of school, the disclosure of the income of our parents is not important enough to jeopardize the feeling of safety that students carry with them.

Audre Lorde said that we must learn to “define and empower,” and not “divide and conquer,” which means that in some cases, our unity comes from our differences and how we accept each other because of and in spite of them. But in this case, our unity comes from what we decide as a
community is not important enough to even be brought up.