Class society: impact on students' lives

Francis Seeck and Dilek Okur, experts on class, gender, race, and difference, were invited to the discussion and debate about Differences within the University. Francis Seeck is a gender researcher, ethnographer, and anti-discrimination trained, German, non-binary person, who does not identify with pronouns; and Dilek Okur is interested in gender, feminism, and class society. She was born in Germany, has Turkish descent, and identifies herself with feminine pronouns.

The conference took place online, through the zoom platform, in the German language within live translation to English. The conference’s main idea was to analyze differences in the universities with a focus on Bayreuth University through a survey to the audience. The audience had 30 people and 29 of them answered the questions. There were around five questions about facing class society in the University; whether those in the audience have or had academic background; if their parents had academic background; if they have or had access to a welfare state; whether the people in the audience were planning about having a car or a house and at the end of the survey it was asked to find around three words to qualify academic education and the class society in the University.

According to Francis Seeck, class is a concept from the social sciences, and it is centered on the stratification and hierarchization of social categories. The most common terms are upper, middle, and lower classes. Features such as education, wealth, occupation, income, and belonging to a particular subculture or social network will characterize the social groups from where we belong. Capital, finance of the studies, cultural capital such as the access to cultural places or goods are real-time and life things that not all classes can afford in the same way.

Seeck proceeds by explaining that those academic degrees give access to qualified jobs, but not everyone can afford Ph.D. fees. Even though there is social support, it is necessary to fulfill a lot of requirements to receive those benefits. In the case of Portugal, it is necessary to be below the defined amount of money by the state. Having one more euro in relation to this amount makes all the difference to receive support or not. This support is not always sufficient to satisfy all the students’ needs. If society is stratified and there is no equal access due to money issues, there are social situations that are going to happen like discrimination, sexism, racism, social isolation, peer pressures, and so on.

As the political scientist Iris M. Young named in her article “Five Faces of Oppression”: exploitation, powerlessness, marginalization, violence, and cultural imperialism, people are stereotyped and marked as “the other” or something apart. Those are consequences of class society. The German case is taking steps to change this issue, projects at ASHBerlin, the universities in Giessen, Potsdam, and Frankfurt/Main are all interconnected, and they are the dismantling of educational barriers. Seeck is one of many activists from the University of Berlin, and currently working on the project “Klassismus ist keine Kunstepoche”, which means in English “Classicism is not an art epoch”, thus it needs to be changed.

Students’ activism and social demand for more laws for people in need are some ways of changing the issue but are they enough? Can we fight against social stratification? This situation is an old one and it is deep-seated in society. People in power that belong to the upper classes want to remain that way. Is it possible the existence of an equal world with equal people, access, and values?

The myth of education

Has everyone the same study opportunities? The myth of education has affected public schools tremendously in the sense that everyone is being divided, mostly by class, which lowers the confidence of students today and so their academic success. What is the myth of education? The students that really matters are those who are succeeding, bringing in positive results, and on a path of attaining a promising future.

What about the others? What about those students that need more time, more patience? Generally, people don’t take responsibility to understand why students are failing, therefore raising people who are ostracized since their childhood. Which are the real social consequences of students’ preferences? Existence of different layers of social groups and people that don’t really have the chance to study in universities, we already know these, but what about those who give up trying ever since they are still young because of teachers’ preferences, or due to the lack of time of their parents or tutors to help them in an academic way? Even though education may be free it is not equal for everyone.

The myth of Meritocracy and its relation to Academia

Meritocracy, in Kwame Anthony Appiah’s[1] vision, represents a vision in which power and privilege would be allocated by individual merit, not by social origins. Best qualified from any field of studies regardless of their background or social class due to their merit. The opposite to this is nepotism, which is the effect of being somebody’s son or daughter or relative having the benefits they haven’t worked for.

Meritocracy is not a sufficient condition for someone to succeed in capitalist societies, therefore it is a myth. Meritocracy is a discursive fallacy and an illusion created by capitalist societies to make people think they are capable of anything if they work hard enough. A hardworking student doing part-time jobs finishes university with the best grades and tries to apply to a company that is related to the degree. The student competes with a relative of the company’s owner. Who will get the job? Does experience or merit really matter? Meritocracy? Power? Luck? Connects? By this, I do not mean that merit does not exist, but that it is something that needs to be rethink in capitalist societies.

Ethnicity and Identity

Dilek Okur spoke about her Turkish identity and the many processes she went through in her childhood because of this big little detail. Being different from the rest of her schoolmates wasn’t easy, even because they helped her to feel this way. Not having good grades is a reason for discrimination. Not belonging to a specific social group is a reason for ostracization. Not having some expected profile is a reason to be discriminated against. Dilek said that facing this kind of problem made her go through existential crises and even starting to believe that she didn’t belong anywhere.

Even though she was raised in a German city, her gender, money, and family background were always a topic for other people’s conversations. At some point, she even started to pretend to be somebody else just to be accepted, to belong to the upper classes’ groups. Dilek even thought about giving up her studies.

Another girl raised an important point concerning her status as an Indian girl. She said that many people ask her about her background, and even made her personal questions about being poor in India and the difficulty of getting out of that situation. She said that it is not easy to be the one who represents a heterogeneity of a country such as India. People use her as a reflector mirror of the prejudices and negative ideas they have concerning realities they don’t know well.

Being the one who needs to constantly adapt herself to belong. Being the one who is weird and different. Being the one who is the only African friend, the only Black friend, the only one who receives welfare state, the only one who frequently refuses invitations to go out because of the lack of money. It’s not easy to always be the person who must struggle to be accepted in the social groups.

I have traveled to Portugal when I was very young, around eight years old. Naturally, I needed to be enrolled in a school and consequently needed to socialize with other children. The first day of classes was a big shock for me. There were clearly social stratifications in my classroom, but in a child’s mind, that room had people who were very different from myself. They wouldn’t play with me because I was different from them. I remember being alone initially and the teacher at that time talked with some girls asking them to welcome me and introduce me to that new world. I remember facing some discriminating looks. I even remember wanting to give up on everything.

These types of situations didn’t just happen in the first school years but throughout all my academic journey. For years I was the only one who wore alternative clothes, which were donated by my family members. I was the last of my colleagues to have a cell phone that had been used by other people before me. All of this emotionally messed up with my mind, and it got to the point where I just stopped talking about myself, about my family background, or even about my past. I started to carry only about my grades and to join some volunteering groups.

I found out about the degree in African Studies by chance, and I decided that I wanted to be close to those who would understand me. People with stories like mine and so on. I found out about the African Studies course on a faculty’s open day for the presentation of the different degrees to potential new students. Initially, I had the idea that I would learn everything about the entire African continent. From history and geography to law and research methodologies. Now I know that the degree serves more to deconstruct thoughts and prejudices, and, above all, it serves as an introduction to the most diverse areas of social sciences in relation to the African continent. And the most important thing to note is that being in African Studies does not imply learning everything about the 54 countries, there is always a focus on some regions and realities. I don’t regret the choice I made. I learned a lot and if I could, I would make the same decision again.

Unfortunately, there are many cases of those who are excluded from the spheres of socialization because of being, like me and like Dilek Okur, different. The difference between students inside schools is something deep in the spheres of society and social classes make this even harder. Most of the solutions that I may think about are related to what the States and governments can do for people’s life. Changes that go through
creating jobs for students who pay their fees. Providing paid leave and paid sick days for students. Invest in affordable, high-quality early childhood care. Free or cheaper access to universities and cultural events for poor families. For how long will class societies keep putting us apart from one another?



Franscis Seeck,


Kwame Anthony Appiah,

The myth of meritocracy,

[1] Kwame Anthony Akroma-Ampim Kusi Appiah is most known as Kwame Anthony Appiah. He was born in London, England on 8th May 1954. He has Ghanaian ancestry because of his father. He is a Ghanaian-British-American philosopher, novelist, and scholar of African intellectual history and African American studies, best known for his contributions to political philosophy, moral psychology, and the philosophy of culture. His main interests have focus on probabilistic semantics, political theory, moral theory, intellectual history, race, and identity theory.

by Arimilde Soares
A ler | 17 February 2022 | activism, class society, dilek okur, equal access, francis seeck, meritocracy, university