Recognizing Middle Class Standard Time (MST)

I’ve been thrilled with the number of references to “MST” I’ve heard since I wrote about it this past spring. I’m not sure if it’s the best formulation for the influence of middle class oppression on nonprofit/social justice meeting culture, but at the very least it’s been nice to know I have allies out there. (Thanks Truthout for being the latest.)

Since I’ve also heard some questions about diagnosis – “Is this MST?” – I’m offering these tools on recognizing MST in the United States. Not because I think I have the most accurate lens on middle class meeting culture, but to support continued conversation and reflection on building healthier social movements and nonprofit/grassroots volunteer work cultures. If you have your own “quiz” or tips for recognizing MST in other cultural contexts, please let me know.

MST Self-Diagnosis Quiz

  1. If there are people present who don’t know each other, do you give the group a substantial amount of time (at least 10% of the total) for activities that allow all group members to get to know each other, and that build safety and confidence?
  2. Is at least 15% of the agenda you’ve planned breaks/social time? (for instance, I often ask participants to show up at 6 for an evening workshop that runs until 9, but if the group doesn’t know each other we won’t start the first formal activity until closer to 7pm)
  3. Have you built-in time for people to trickle-in late? (especially important in multicultural groups)
  4. If the group starts running behind on the schedule, do you cut bigger items from the agenda to avoid rushing the group along? (As opposed to trying to make the same content fit in less time.)
  5. If the participants don’t seem to have the energy for the material as it’s being presented, do you change your plan for the day to match the energy and interest of the group?
  6. When you meet with co-facilitators, do you emphasize the importance of the group members achieving their goals and overall wellbeing, even at the expense of the content you had selected?

If you’ve answered “No” to multiple questions, you may want to check-in with co-facilitators to make sure you aren’t replicating harmful characteristics of middle class meeting culture.


More MST Clues

 What the Facilitators Say

  • “I know, I know, we’re running behind BUT…”
  • “We’re going to cut our break short so we can get through all of this…”
  • “We’re packing-in a lot…”
  • “Thank you all for bearing with us, I know it’s been a long day and I can see you all want a break, I appreciate you hanging-in there a little longer…”
  • “We’re past our original end time but since we just have two items left on the agenda I think we can keep going…”

Participant Body Language

  • Low energy
  • Multiple drooping faces, eyes to the floor
  • Glassy, far-away expressions
  • Several people leave to take a break in the same five-minute period
  • Several people are distracted or “checking-out” with their phones or murmuring to a neighbor
  • Sometimes participants being run on MST look pissed-off or resentful, because they feel manipulated

One comment on “Recognizing Middle Class Standard Time (MST)

  1. The behaviors you’re highlighting (i.e., not valuing social time as much as “business” time, and being willing to call it quits when the group runs low on energy) echo what I’ve learned as “group maintenance” and “group task” functions. I’m used to thinking of these in terms of socialized gender roles: that people perceived as male are socialized to concentrate on the tasks at hand (“get stuff done!”) and people perceived as female are socialized to tune into group vibes (“how’s everyone doing?”). Of course, this is a generalization, and doesn’t break down along these lines always.

    So it’s interesting to think of task and maintenance functions in terms of class as well. Putting male socialization and middle-class dominance together, one can see why social change meetings in the US run the way they do, huh?

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