The Aggregate: The Real Costs of Higher Education // A Curated Collision of Food and Music
“Aggregate is a unique word. As a noun, it indicates different elements brought together in the same place. As a verb, it seeks to collect and assemble disparate pieces to create a more cohesive whole. This column seeks to do both of those things; breaking down some important stories in print journalism each week and presenting them in more bite-sized pieces.”
Rich White People are Back on Their Bullsh*t: Higher Education Edition
The Atlantic – Clint Smith, “Elite Colleges Constantly Tell Low-Income Students That They Do Not Belong”
America’s higher education system finds itself under a microscope once again in last couple of weeks since the Department of Justice brought charges against roughly 50 people linked to a massive, widespread college admissions scandal. As details about the scandal continue to emerge, people are taking a necessary and unapologetic look at how some of America’s top universities operate; both before and after the admissions process is complete. Clint Smith’s article from The Atlantic highlights some of the most appalling ways that social and cultural norms on elite university campuses work to make minority and low-income students continue to feel like outsiders, even in the light of recent events that show they may be more deserving of their spots at these universities than some of their peers.
“The doubly disadvantaged are students who arrive at these top institutions from neighborhood public schools, many of which are overcrowded and underfunded. They are schools where these students have excelled, but that are ill-equipped to give them the sociocultural tools necessary to understand the nuances of how these elite colleges operate.”
Smith refers to one book in particular – The Privileged Poor by Anthony Abraham Jack – as the basis for many of his arguments. One of those arguments comments on work-study programs, which are available to students at most universities, but carry a particular stigma on elite campuses. This can also lead to shame and embarrassment for those students who work these jobs. Adjusting to life in college is difficult enough without the added stress of cleaning your classmates bathrooms and picking up their trash. It is obvious how this kind of work would take a toll on a student’s mental health and add to a negative perception of self in relation to other students, especially those who do not have jobs.
“The program is offered during the summer and throughout the year as a stand-alone job. While the students are paid, many of them found that the work brought about enormous humiliation. […] Some of the students described the intense shame they felt as they sat in class alongside students whose toilets they had just cleaned. Having students who need money clean the bathrooms of their more affluent peers reifies existing class boundaries.”
As if these custodial jobs for students weren’t humiliating enough, even the social aspect of college can be a negative, stigmatized experience for low-income students. Smith refers again to Anthony Abraham Jack’s book, where he examines a program intended to increase the ability for low-income students to participate in extracurricular activities and campus events.
“The system had two lines for tickets: one for the students who could pay, and another for the students who could not. What’s more, the line for the students using the Scholarship Plus program was near the back door, and students entered the theater via a small side door rather than the main entrance used by their peers. And because of the socioeconomic realities of the United States, the main line was made up of primarily white students, while the Scholarship Plus line was made up of mostly students who were black and Latino.”
This is a joke, right? A side door? A separate line? The way the universities choose to handle these programs – which are intended to help low-income students attend events on campus – has resulted in a hauntingly familiar and blatantly bigoted image of two effectively segregated classes of students: The “haves” and the “have nots.” Education has long been considered the great equalizer in terms of increased opportunity for those who can access it, but when the process of receiving an education becomes so negative and stigmatized for low-income students, as well as students of color on these campuses, four years in this environment stands to do more harm than good. Hopefully, the aftermath of this scandal will create a new standard of accountability and inclusivity for universities and colleges as they increase consideration for their entire student body.
“But what this scandal demonstrates is that the very idea of our society—in the context of higher ed or otherwise—being a “meritocracy” was made up to justify and reify existing social hierarchies. It is not real. What is real is the advantages of wealth and race, which often combine to give people things that they have told themselves they deserve.”
A New York Times article touches on the theory of “snowplow parenting” as it pertains to this most recent scandal. This style of parenting entails “clear[ing] away any obstacle to their children’s success — even when it means crossing ethical and legal boundaries.” The pay-to-play scheme that has emerged here is an egregious example of snowplow parenting, and I think many Americans in similar positions of privilege stand to benefit from a reality check in the wake of these events. This scandal has been, for many people watching, a long overdue moment that will finally force many Americans (especially those who have felt entitled thus far) to reevaluate what it means to be truly deserving of opportunity and success.
“I’ll take the Ribeye with a side of Classic Rock”
GQ – Kathleen Johnston, “Beats By Dr Dre and chef Tom Sellers have just defined the future of pairing food and music”
The world is full of news stories on any given day that have the power to make us question the morality of the human species. This story, on the other hand, highlights a fun and interesting innovation at the intersection of two of the most objectively wonderful parts of being human – good food and good music. In this article for the UK edition of GQ Magazine, Kathleen Johnston retells the story of a trial run for a new restaurant experience with UK-based chef, Tom Sellers. Johnston predicts that this dinner party was impactful enough to change how many trendy, high-end restaurants will begin to approach their music selection moving forward.
“Last week, Beats By Dre hosted a trailblazing dinner in partnership with Tom Sellers, the young maverick chef behind one of London’s hottest restaurants, Story, that showcased what we’re betting will be the next big innovation on the capital’s restaurant scene. Every dish on Seller’s Michelin star-winning, six-course menu was served with a specially curated, themed playlist, bridging the gap between food and music and making a multi-sensory meal unlike anything we’ve experienced before.”
There are plenty of trends that emerge every week behind the facade of being hot or innovative that are, in fact, just plain stupid. This is not one of those trends. We all have songs, albums, or playlists that take us back to a certain place or time, so why not let music connect us to our food, too? Creating the most memorable dining experience possible is a serious win for restaurants and their customers, and up until now, I can guarantee that the ambient music is not the first thing most people remember when they conjure up their favorite fine dining experience.
“This appreciation of how music and food conjure up memories shaped the entire menu. […] While plating up fine dining fare with a side of rap might seem outlandish, this isn’t the first time Sellers has thought carefully about the music in his restaurant, about ‘finding a narrative or story behind why we play that music day to day in the restaurant’.”
Striving for increased harmony (pun intended) between the food and the atmosphere in restaurants will undoubtedly enhance the overall experience. The food at these restaurants will now not only be highly “Instagramable,” but it will even sound nice. Millennials in particular have a knack for transforming everyday activities into curated experiences, and this just so happens to be one example of that being done exceedingly well.
“The music isn’t specifically matched to dishes, however, hence why this dinner with Beats marked a new frontier in the future of food. […] ‘Young people especially want to be stimulated in more than one way. If you throw it back, dinner and cabaret or live music was a thing and we kind of lost that for a while. There aren’t many venues where you can go and see that done well.'”
Sellers is completely correct with this last statement. Music and food are markers of culture and wonderful manifestations of human achievement, therefore, I am as hopeful as anyone to see this trend gain traction. As a best case scenario, restaurant owners will begin to think twice before they smash the play button on the same seriously mediocre Pandora station that they have been using for the last six months. Worst case scenario, I will start building my own carefully curated playlists to accompany the Rice-A-Roni and sad vegetables that make up most of the meals I cook for myself at home. Either way, I stand to win.
Thanks so much for reading, and we’ll see you again next week.