I take a class here at the U called “CLA 1002.” It’s the second part of a year-long course that is designed to try and help freshmen make the most out of their first year in college. It’s all online except for the few instances where we have to go to different events in order to earn points, but every week we have a different sort of task that wants us to explore our resources and interests which we then complete by submitting an online reflection. Two weeks ago, the module that I was following was trying to help me dive into my true interests by observing what all of my surroundings and upbringing have taught me.
I had to write about where I fit into the social scale and about my family’s finances and how I envision my future finances. I try to be honest when I write these, because I know that my section leader probably gets a lot of super boring responses each week from people who waited until five minutes before the assignment was due to do it and half-assed it. So, for this week, I talked about how I was a white female who came from an upbringing in the middle class where we have always been pretty financially stable and never struggled to afford the things that we have really needed. Both of my parents are college-educated and hold stable jobs. This is the lifestyle that I am used to, and of course would be willing to adapt, but would like to kind of live my life in this financial realm if I can. I acknowledge just how privileged I am to have grown up this way, I really, truly do.
Growing up, it was expected that I become financially independent, get a decent job, and 100% go and get a college education. That’s just how it was for me, and my parent’s expectations were out of my control. This is all just how it was, and I try to emphasize this to make a point later on.
Ending the assignment, I had to reflect on all of my experiences in school and work that could influence what I want to do for the rest of my life. I talked about the lack of inspiration that I have found in the majority of my studies and jobs, and went on to talk about how I currently work as a barista in food service. I had one line where I said that ‘The only thing that I have learned from working in food service is that I want to finish out my degree so that I no longer have to work in food service.” This was a line that I thought was just an ordinary line where I was not super specific, but my section leader interpreted it in a way that I was not expecting.
She said something along the lines of that I should be careful about that statement because it seems like I am linking incompetence to food service, which would be a huge generalization and extremely offensive.
When I first read this, I was kind of shocked. I had just been social-justice-warriored and I am one of the most socially-justice aware people that I know. Look, I understand the point that she was trying to make. I really do, and sure, it could come off that way, but I feel like she really overreached here and assumed that because I was a middle-class white person from a financially stable background, I unknowingly expressed my privilege by linking food service to incompetence because I am just blind.
Allow me to tear all of this apart because I have had a few days to think it over and come up with a comprehensive and thought-out response. Let’s start with why I decided to get a job.
As a human independent from my parents, I have no money other than whatever money I have accumulated from my birthdays and odd babysitting gigs. This does not last long because most people need to spend money in order to survive. So, I got a job, so that I would have a consistent influx of money coming into my bank account. I also needed something to do with the ridiculous amount of free time that college leaves you with.
Getting a job with no experience is nearly impossible, as is getting a well-paying job without a college degree. Minimum wage is suitable for a college student who is beginning to save and doesn’t have to pay for her own education. It does not support much more beyond that, which is really frustrating.
I work with a small group of amazingly quirky diverse people who are all working this job for some reason, but an overarching reason to work this job is in order to pay the bills that life gives you. Is this anyone’s dream job? Maybe, but I really doubt it. Working in food service is hard work that gives me the inspiration to find a job where I don’t have to be on my feet all day and where I do soul-fulfilling work that doesn’t involve dealing with nasty customers every single day.
Back to the people that I work with. For some, it is their full-time job. Some of them work more than one job. Some are working this job to pay for college as they’re in college, and some are working this job to save up for college. Some are working this job to support themselves while others are working it to support their families. Our education levels vary widely, but we are all there to pay for something. In NO way does working in food service link to incompetence.
I work with some really smart people who aren’t going to college, and some really smart people that graduated from college a really long time ago. Hell, a large chunk of our smartest people in history said “screw it” to the education system. We all got a job there because we could and it would give us an income, no matter what size. If the option to be a billionaire CEO of a giant conglomerate of a company were an option for us, I’m sure we would all take it. But, we have to be realistic here. We are just average people who need jobs, and food service provides us with them, and that’s just how it is.
So yes, I am in fact going to college so that I can work in the field that I am interested in and yes I am very privileged to be able to go to college to make that happen. If I want to work in a field that deals with foreign policy and world economic systems, I have to get a degree of some sort, and if I want to work as a barista at Caribou, I don’t need to go to college to get a degree for it.
Let’s be clear, working in food service is hard and exhausting. Dealing with people, standing for hours, and memorizing all of the things that you have to memorize are hard things to do every day, and the hours tend to suck. When I said that I wanted to finish college so that I didn’t have to work in food service for the rest of my life, I truly meant it in that I want to work a job in my future that aligns with my interest, and since I have the privilege to go to college, I’m going to try to accomplish it. It NEVER even crossed my mind that I could be suggesting a link between work in the food service and incompetence, and I hope that I have made my point. Some brilliant people work in food service and I admire the hard work that they put into their jobs to support themselves and their families, and there are some really dumb people who are college-educated working jobs that require a college education. It has nothing to do with incompetence, and if you really want to go into it, you can dig at the increasing inequality that people in the world face and how unequal upbringings affect the types of jobs that people are able to get. I want to work a different job in the future because I just want to do something different. It has nothing to do with competence.
So, to my section leader, you assumed wrong, and you shouldn’t make assumptions about what people mean in your efforts to be as equal and socially-just as possible. There are sometimes where you can call people out on a one-liner because it is ridiculously offensive, but my one-liner in its context was simply reflecting on how working a job in food service has not inspired me to find a career as a chef or barista or even a manager of a restaurant because I just don’t like it. That is what the assignment asked me to do. Perhaps, she could have asked me what exactly I meant before jumping to conclusions on blind privilege. Just a thought.