By Emily Breakell
Authors’ Note: My reference to wizards in no way endorses recent parties or their themes.
When we dress up as wizards, the implication is that we are not actually wizards. Otherwise, we wouldn’t need to dress up. Similarly, when we dress up as “white trash,” we are declaring that we are not “white trash” and that we have to dress differently in order to resemble “white trash.” Holy Cross students can throw a party around this theme by virtue of the fact that “white trash” is not a term we would generally use to characterize students on the Hill.
“White trash” is a derogatory, pernicious stereotype for white people experiencing economic poverty. Certainly, a variety of structural factors could prevent populations associated with “white trash” from accessing a school such as Holy Cross. While we can safely assume that no wizards are enrolled at HC, we cannot make that same assumption about the socioeconomic status of our peers. As a need-blind school, Holy Cross does have at least some socioeconomic diversity. I will submit, then, that when we throw or attend a “white trash” party, we are not only perpetuating stereotypes of poor, uneducated white people, we are also alienating people on our campus.
Personally, I was privileged to go to a good public high school and live in an economically stable home. With that said, I will be the first in my family to get a bachelor’s degree. My parents and brother, while not academics, are capable tradespeople who do physically demanding work every day and make their communities better. My brother, an electrician, wanted so badly to rewire my room in Mulledy my first year, so that I would be able to do my work at night. He does more free labor for his friends than I could do in a lifetime. My mother, a hairdresser, generously does the hair of many elderly people in our community who are unable to leave their homes. My grandmother sewed the beautiful quilt that dons my bed in Figge and has donated her intricate quilts to raise money for countless organizations in her community. My grandfather, a small business owner, was full of wisdom about: the importance of living simply and empathetically, always being grateful for what you have, and looking out for your neighbors. He used to remind my brother and I, “pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.” Despite how remarkable I know he was, my grandmother recently told me how proud my grandfather would have been of me, specifically because he used to mention that he felt lesser than his friends who went to college.
If anything, the way my grandfather was made to feel about his education status has only become more normalized. My brother has been judged and probed about his decision not to attend college. In fact, people at Holy Cross regularly assume that my older brother must have gone to college. Everyone here comes from an “educated” family, right? My professors at Holy Cross have sometimes referred to how much parents are paying for our HC education. Everyone’s parents are paying for them to come here, right?
I know that these comments are not intentionally seeking to firm up class divides, just like I know that students who host or attend “white trash” parties are not trying to explicitly say that less educated, less economically-empowered people are lesser people in general. Unfortunately, intent often does not factor into the experienced impact. Collectively, comments, parties, and cultural cues contribute to real experience. For example, in my first year, I had to explicitly tell members of my family that they didn’t have to dress differently to come visit me at HC. They quickly noticed clothes I was no longer choosing to wear what others on campus were wearing and doing and started to adjust.
Let’s admit that themed parties have something to do with who we are and how we see ourselves. Let’s also admit that if a party theme has to do with an actual demographic of people, it demonstrates to others how we perceive that group and how we think or do not think about the world. For this exact reason, if you go to Torrington, CT, you won’t find any “white trash” parties. What you will find are the people who inspire me to discover my own gifts, be generous, be grateful, persevere, and above all, speak up for justice. You will find the people I love most in the whole world.