Classism Taboo - Classism: Tackling the last great American...

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Classism: Tackling the last great American taboo by Steve Pfarrer This article was originally published May 23rd, 2008 in the Hampshire Life Magazine One night in early May, teachers, staff and parents from The Common School, a private elementary school in Amherst, gathered to talk about class. But not class as in classroom. Class as in students and parents of different economic levels. Those at the meeting -- members of the school's diversity committee -- had turned to a Hadley-based nonprofit, Class Action, to help them. "Over the years, we've had parents say they feel out of place here, or they wonder why their kid isn't invited to other people's houses," said school director Bud Lichtenstein. He noted that one parent who had filled out a questionnaire about the issue had written that her daughter had come home from school one day and asked "Are we poor?" Parent Katja Meinke related that her son had surprised her one day when he asked: "Mom, what kind of job would I need to pick to get a really good income?" Another parent, Maddy DelVicario, noted that children were likely more aware of differences in class than adults realized. And so Felice Yeskel, the director of Class Action, whose mission is to raise awareness of how class defines issues in the United States, asked the group to think back to when they were kids. When did they first sense differences in status among friends or classmates? "That was really kind of an eye-opener," said DelVicario, "to look back and think about when that first happened to me. And I can remember when I realized a friend of mine wasn't as well off as our family, and wondering how she felt being in our house." Yeskel, 55, says that the subject of class "is the last great taboo in America." But for anyone concerned about seeing genuine equality in the country, she adds, "It's something we have to talk about." Talk is one tool that Yeskel is using to combat "classism" -- the oppression of people based on their perceived worth, beliefs and values. Though many people in the United States believe they live in a classless society, she says, where upward mobility is a given, the country has become far more stratified in the last 30 years -- a situation that leads to economic unfairness and distrust and misunderstanding between groups of people. With a better understanding of that, says Yeskel, people from all walks of life can bridge some of their differences and build a more just society where everyone's basic needs are
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met. Sounds like pie in the sky. But Yeskel, the former director and founder of the Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst -- the school's support center for gay, lesbian and bisexual students, faculty and staff -- is turning theory into action. She has been traveling across the country since co-founding Class Action in 2004, meeting with social agencies, schools, businesses and other groups to discuss classism and specific ways the organizations can address the issue. Fees for the work Class Action does ranges from
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Classism Taboo - Classism: Tackling the last great American...

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