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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol 6, No. 5. May 5, 1943

Class Distinctions in Victoria College

page 4

Class Distinctions in Victoria College

Last year I circulated a questionnaire among a random sample of 22 Victoria College students—10 men and 12 women—with a view to investigating whether or not there are class distinctions in the College.

It was necessary to decide first of all the criteria on which to judge class position. I adopted from Davis and Dollard* the test which they found most valid in their social studies of American negroes, namely, that people are said to belong to the same social class when they may associate freely in such ways as to:
  • 1. Eat or drink together as a social ritual.
  • 2. Freely visit one another's families.
  • 3. Talk together intimately in a social group.

The majority of students replied that there are students with whom they could not associate on such grounds. The five who could were all men! The women apparently feel more insecure, and the need to tread more warily than the men.

They Reply.

In order to discover some of the specific factors preventing free association of students I asked nine questions. There was full agreement on two points: the first, that differences in style or standard of dress are of no account; the second, that differences of economic status or occupation of students are not important. However, economic status of students' families as reflected in the family's background and standard of living forms a barrier for six students. Differences in educational ability and background (e.g., school attended) are important to five women, and accent and language usage to two women. Concerning the colour question, two women are prejudiced here; and three coloured students who answered the questionnaire feel that their colour sometimes goes against them in making social contacts. The greatest division of opinion concerning differences are: firstly, personal habits (e.g., swearing, drinking); seven women and three men being affected; secondly, in standards of morality, seven women and two men being affected; and thirdly, in beliefs or ideas, four women and three men being affected.

The Sexes Differ.

From all the men there were only eight replies indicating factors which interfered with associating with other students, and all these pertained to the last three above-mentioned questions. Of the women's thirty-two such replies, eighteen pertained to these same questions. We may infer that women need to exercise more caution in their social contacts because they run a greater danger in regard to sexual relationships.

When asked if they thought there are social classes existing in the College, only three answered negatively, and these all men. Two other [unclear: men] while believing social classes do exist, find themselves quite class mobile.

Despite the fact that class distinctions are so widely believed to exist, no one was able to give a satisfactory classification. Students were variously sorted out according to academic attainments, occupation, nationality, financial position, and length of time spent at College. However, seven people agreed that there is a class called intellectuals, and five that there is another called full timers.

Is the result of this Questionnaire significant of general student opinion? Of course the greater the number of replies the more valid the results are likely to be. However, this sample of twenty-two students was sufficiently representative to make the validity of the results highly probable.

It appears, therefore, that there are social distinctions of some sort or another in the College. I would not interpret the results to mean that they are class distinctions in the true sense of the word.

When we talk of the upper, middle, and lower classes we generally have in mind distinctions based mainly on economic, occupational, and educational differences. Within each of these broad classes there are many sub-classes, based on such factors as differences in belief or moral standards.

Class Mobility?

Now, education is the instrument, par excellence, making for class mobility; insofar as a University is an educational and cultural institution, it is a melting pot for class distinctions. Further, the results of the Questionnaire indicate that the occupations of our students do not cause class distinctions. It was differences of beliefs—religious, political, etc.—and moral standards that caused most students to feel separated from some others. Thus I am led to the opinion that social groups within the College correspond to social sub-classes in wider society.

The parents of our twenty-two stu dents range in occupational groups from skilled craftsmen to professional men, that is, from lower middle to upper class. Inasmuch as a University makes for class mobility, some students are likely to face psychological conflicts in moving, especially upwards, into a class different from that of their own family. The questionnaire revealed that only five men, out of twenty-two students, are able to be quite mobile in university society. I would finish by saying that frequently class mobility is hindered rather by reticence on the part of the lower classes than arrogance of the upper classes.

J. W. Money.

* ٭ Davis. A., and Dollard J. : "Children of Bondage." American Council on Educ. Washington D.C.. 1940.