Supporting students from a class perspective

An interesting article in today’s NY Times: Poor Students Struggle as Class Plays a Greater Role in Success  (alternatively titled as “For Poor, Leap to College Often Ends in Hard Fall”)

I write about class a lot because it’s one of the few things I feel secure in my knowledge. When we think about class in terms of college, we often think about the financial aid piece. Universities have made great progress in meeting the financial needs of low-income student, but there are still nuances about growing up poor that are forgotten. It’s beyond the ability to pay for college. This article does a good job discussing the complex socio-economic influences in our lives. There is this cultural difference that exists between classes which people often forget or deny. As academics, it’s important that we are aware of these differences and able to support students coming from low-income families.

From the article: Annette Lareau, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that the affluent also enjoy an advocacy edge: parents are quicker to intervene when their children need help, while low-income families often feel intimidated and defer to school officials, a problem that would trail Melissa and Angelica in their journey through college.

“Middle-class students get the sense the institution will respond to them,” Professor Lareau said. “Working-class and poor students don’t experience that. It makes them more vulnerable.”

This is a critical statement in understanding the experiences and needs of many students who come from low-income families. I’m sure there are many reasons students may not ask for help. For me, I often didn’t know what kind of help existed or that it was ok to ask for help. There was also overwhelming feelings of shame in needing help or the idea of being a bother.

I don’t know what the solution is or how to ease the transition to college, but I think it’s something we need to keep thinking and talking about. A start might be to move away from this idea of “first generation college student” to actually acknowledging class differences. There are many older academics who are “first generation college students” but mostly like from middle class families. Especially any of those academics who graduated college prior to the 1990s. If you are 60 years old and a first generation college student, you probably come from a middle class background. The poor kids went to Vietnam. So, your experiences as a first generation college student are probably quite different than your students. Trying to identify with them in those terms misses the point. As a person who comes from anti-oppressive practice point of view,  I intentionally discuss class in the same ways I intentionally discuss race, gender, and sexual orientation. I hope this serves several purposes. First, to highlight some of the nuances of class that middle or upper middle class people may not get. Second, to indirectly share with students who may be from low income families that I may be someone who understands their struggle. Finally, I hope it gets people talking about class in the ways that we talk about other experiences of oppression within the context of academic experiences and successes.


I’m taking part in the Academic Writing Month challenge.

My goal for the month: Two full article drafts from my dissertation and a complete literature review for the new research project I’m working on.

Strategy: Write Mondays and Fridays. 1st article draft done by 11/10, literature review done by 11/20, and 2nd article done by 11/30.

This year’s #AcWriMo has dropped the book aspect to allow more people to get involved and ensure that tweeted content shows up in the regular #AcWri stream. Approaching the initiative as a diagnostic tool, Charlotte has set out six key rules:

• Decide on a goal that’s word, time or task based (and stretches you)

• Publicly declare said goal (this gives you a push from the start)

• Draft a strategy (planning in advance will focus you)

• Openly discuss your problems and progress

• Don’t slack off

• Declare your results at the end

NPR Story

As I was driving through Itasca State Park on Friday, I heard a disturbing story on The World for NPR about the Marines in Afghanistan training Afghan soldiers. The Marines were joking about how they were unable to pronounce the names of their Afghan colleagues, so rather than trying to learn to pronounce the names the Marines gave them new names. These new names were various references to they way the Afghan soldiers looked or on United States movies. One Afghan soldier was given the nickname “Toothless”  another was given the name “Pedro” because the Marine claims that the Afghan soldier looked Latino. The NPR story wasn’t about this terrible cultural insensitivity, but about how the Marines were having difficulty training and trusting the Afghan soldiers they were training. Sadly, I think NPR and the Marines missed a possible connection between the insulting nicknames and the difficulty in the collaborative process. I wonder how much training and education the Marines get on the collaborative process and building successful teams through support and respect rather than intimidation and mockery.