The ballroom was dim, and the music was loud. All I could see were my peers lumped into one organism, flowing on the floor, spinning like a tornado, and destroying everything in its path. All I could hear was the chatter of students and jazz music. All I could feel was hypocrisy itchy down my spine like a spider full of venom. Not only was I feeling and experiencing hypocrisy, but I was a hypocrite, myself. On Friday night, I attended the Winter Ball: Enchanted Forest at the Antler’s Hotel, and I left more confused and dazed than I have ever felt before.
In light of the Winter Ball this weekend, I would like to take the opportunity to examine what I witnessed and experienced Friday night using the sociological theories of education I learned in class last week. Our class began with the history of public education in the United States, and we moved on later in the week to talk about sociological theories relating to the purpose of education and why inequality exists in terms of education. The Winter Ball can be examined through two macro-level theories of education. First, there is the functionalist theory which focuses on how education helps society run smoothly. Contrastly, there is the conflict theory which focuses on how education serves the needs of the elite class. Both of these theories can be applied to the events I witnessed on Friday. I would like to clarify that I don’t mean to bash the students who attended the Winter Ball through this analysis. I mean to bring to light some problematic social features of the Winter ball. Clearly, I am no expert. Take what I have to say with a grain of salt because I am clueless. Simply, I am trying to make sense of the world around me through the sociological theories SO280 has taught me.
The aftermath of the Winter Ball has made me question why a college would provide its student body with a giant party. If you look at other colleges, especially larger universities, institutions of higher education rarely provide dances that equate to high school homecoming dances or prom. If you do see celebrations like these in college, they are run by student organizations or Greek life. Functionalists would argue that the Winter Ball serves a purpose for the college and for the students, but it is not for the reason you may think. Functionalists view education as a means to equip youth with the tools they need to be successful in society. For example, teaching students physics will equip them with the knowledge to be successful engineers. Functionalists would say that the Winter Ball is a tool used by the college to socialize its student body. Everyone comes together and mingles. Although we don’t view the Winter ball as a ploy to control us as students, perhaps it is. It could just be a fun night for all, but maybe there are hidden intentions. Functionalists say that a part of education is the manifest function of maintaining social order through shared knowledge and national principles. Based on what I have learned this week in class, I would argue that the Winter ball could be used to do just that. We get dressed up in a nice outfit, listen to music (good or bad), and we see all of our friends in a formal setting. An event like the Winter Ball could be used to teach us how to socialize and behave at formal events. Of course, the intention backfires and what I am arguing is a stretch, but events like the Winter Ball could serve this purpose.
I remember sitting at a table near the food in the Jazz room with my two best friends, and we were eating citrus tasting cheesecake bites. The plates from the people before us were piled on the table, and one of the boys helping run the event came over to clear off the table. We looked around us, and we saw plates scattered all over the place. There was food on the floor and lost items littering the tables. The boy who cleared off the table I was sitting at couldn’t have been older than fifteen years old, and it made me wonder what kind of people were working the Winter Ball and what kind of people were attending the Winter Ball. When my friends and I got back on the bus to head back to campus, my friend next to me turned to me and said, “I’m disgusted.” I didn’t say anything for a few seconds thinking about what I had experienced. I turned back to her and said, “Yeah, me too.” Although applying the functionalist theory to the Winter Ball was a stretch, conflict theory is pretty spot on. Collectively, we like to think of ourselves as warriors for social justice, but maybe the Winter Ball has problematic social implications. Conflict theory focuses on how groups compete for resources, power, and status. Education is a resource, and the winners obtain and maintain this resource. In terms of the Winter Ball, we are allowed to go because our institution provides this event. We would not be at this institution if we did not have some sort of intellectual or economic resource to be here. Because we attend CC, we have the privilege of a college education. We have the resources to go to Winter Ball. On the other hand, the workers at the Winter Ball did not, yet they had to clean up our mess which was a big mess. Conflict theory would argue that students from high socioeconomic status families or white students made it to CC because of their elite status in society. It is beneficial to be white and rich. For students who do not fit these categories, conflict theory would argue that you are at CC because you were not tracked in school at an early age.
All of this being said, the Winter Ball made me think of conflict theory relating to education because we like to think that we are at CC because of our merit, but maybe it is because of luck. Maybe, you were born into the right family. Maybe, you were born with the right skin color. Maybe, the people who weren’t born into the right family or with the right skin color were working Friday night at the Antler’s Hotel to clean up after the people who were given the luck to attend CC. We went into the Winter Ball privileged, and we didn’t think about who had the job of cleaning up after us.
For these reasons, that is why I felt like a hypocrite. I like to think of myself as a pretty liberal person, but I participated in Winter Ball. I want to major in Sociology, yet I didn’t think about the underlying implications of Winter Ball until I got on the bus. I didn’t question my participation until after I took advantage of the event provided for me. Seriously, I don’t mean to ruin the fun of Winter Ball, but I think the student body should question these events more. We should question the purpose of college run events and how they might be reproducing inequality in our community. Yes, SO 280 is teaching me a lot of sociological theories, but most importantly, it is teaching me how to question everyday life.