Along with a few other Middlebury College students, I spent my January winter term working in a public school in the Bronx. Our Education Studies Program coordinated this valuable learning experience outside of Middlebury’s “bubble.” However, I found this “bubble” not easily escapable. At each turn I found the racist pumps that keep it inflated and witnessed rapid “repairs” to any momentary puncture of its surface, those longing for the fresh air of a counter-frame silenced by the same dominant ideologies that plague the halls of my campus. The following is the first part (of three, two more to come) of a reflection on my experience.
Each morning my alarm goes off at 6 am. I hurriedly prepare for the commute from my comfortable host family’s apartment in Greenwich Village to the poorest Congressional district in the country. With the passing of each stop in the subway the demographics of the passengers drastically changes. Soon I am the only white person left in the train. As I get off the subway in the South Bronx I emerge to a different world.
I am not alone in having a long commute. For our New York City Urban Education Internship we were graciously provided housing with current Middlebury parents, staying in the beds their children vacated while in Vermont. Although nearly all of us were placed in public schools in the Bronx, not one of us was placed in housing there.
While the Bronx is comprised of a diverse and impoverished population, Middlebury is an elite private institution with a tremendous wealth bias in its admission practice despite its boasting of a “need blind” policy. This bias is precisely why none of us were staying in the Bronx and why one host family even had a private elevator that opened up directly to their living room. Another had not only a housekeeper at their assistance all day, but also an entire additional apartment in the elaborate residence that presently sits empty, waiting to be occupied by their son when he graduates.
Housing segregation in America maps along with class inequality and is a long-term consequence of slavery, a form of systemic racism that is, as explained by Joe Feagin in Racist America: “maintained by social inheritance mechanisms that transmit wealth and privilege over the generations.” As whites have accrued economic benefits and built up housing equity, often red-lined and deed-restricted into being the only group able to do so throughout most of our history, they accrue intergenerational wealth easily converted into educational capital.
~ Jay Saper is a student of sociology at Middlebury College