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Socioeconomic and Class Issues in Higher Education
January 17, 2017 Steven Jenks University of Denver

Welcome to the second post in series highlighting the struggles that professionals from a poor or working class background may face. In this series of mostly anecdotal rants, I hope to illuminate some practices you may not realize can be alienating to colleagues struggling with finances. You can read the first post, an introduction and the topic of professional clothing standards, here.

Potluck Celebrations

Budget cuts in education have seen a decrease in many things. We try to use fewer office supplies. Maybe we got rid of business cards. Perhaps your office is powered by everyone running in a hamster wheel at their desk. Lots of ways to save money. But despite the cutbacks, we still like to have fun, right? I know I do. However, when it comes time for a holiday celebration, a welcoming of a new member of the team, or just a “we haven’t had one in a while” party, many offices have moved away from using department funds for catering and moved towards potlucks.

Whenever I get an email about an upcoming event I sigh, look longingly out the window, and try and debate if I want to be the guy that signs up for chips or soda again or cut back on my lunch options next week to afford a nicer dish to bring for the potluck that inevitably becomes the format of the gathering. (Side note: I wrote this in October, but have since discovered that cranberry sauce is pretty cheap to make yourself AND isn’t something people think to bring! I use this recipe.) Of course bringing ANYTHING to the potluck gives me an answer to “so, what did you bring?” (even though it is always stated that you aren’t required to bring something) but I also want to avoid being the subject in “oh look, so-and-so brought a veggie tray. Again.” Of course, that wouldn’t be me because vegetable trays are surprisingly more expensive than I thought.

Suggestion: Potlucks are fun, so I’m not going to say don’t have them, but avoid having them sneak up on people. Even major holidays tend to be off of my radar until it’s too late, so having a week or two in advance to sign up for something is better than a few days before. As an alternative for some celebrations (like welcoming a new colleague) perhaps a scheduled lunch together in a conference room would provide the social atmosphere while allowing people to bring what they would normally eat anyway.

Have other ideas? Comment below!

Steve Jenks is an admission counselor at Ithaca College. He is interested in college access and affordability in relation to recruitment, admission, and enrollment practices. In his free time he is an avid paper crafter, puzzler, and calligrapher. You can find him everywhere @CentaurOfAttn