Monday, March 04, 2013

Article Note: On Diversity and Working Class Students

Citation for the article:

Casey, Janet Galligani, "Diversity, Discourse, and the Working Class Student." Academe 91.4 (July/August 2005): 33.

I read this as part of a jigsaw exercise for a session of the New Faculty seminar series I am attending this academic year as part of my experience as a new faculty member at Berea College. I read it back in September of last year, so again, this is catching up on some notes.

Notes that I wrote about it as I read it:

  • I think the main point is that we often talk about diversity, that we often say it is a desirable thing, but we don't always know what the term means, let alone what it looks like. In addition, the article considers the invisibility of working class students when compared to other, more visible minorities or groups. 
  • The article opens with an anecdote. It mentions recent commenters regarding diversity regarding diversity, but I noticed the article lacked specific names or citations. To be honest, I've seen bloggers who at least give links and cite better. However, I find the points made to be valid, maybe in part from experience, maybe in part because I've done other readings, so I am able to fill in some of the gaps. The author also draws on personal experience as a teacher. 
  • I am not sure that I totally buy that working class student are always/totally silent. Is this a question of engagement? For us teachers and educators, how can we assure that we do not come across as elitist but instead as approachable?
  • By the way, the rhetoric the author mentions of college as a way up and out of the working class is now coming into question. I would add that, if nothing else, the U.S. as a nation has done a great job of denigrating working class work, but that is a separate thought for a separate time. Anyhow, the Great Recession has served to challenge a lot of previously unchallenged assumptions. 
  • A quote from the article that really caught my attention and one I know can be true: "But this perspective ignores the reality that some students have a lot to lose by going to college. Specifically, working-class students often become alienated from their families in direct proportion to their procurement of new ideas and attitudes, and they are frequently unprepared for the cultural and personal schisms that result." In essence, these students often pay a very high price. 
  • The challenge for faculty who come from working class, or other minority backgrounds, comes from the pressures of academia to conform to its model, making it hard for them to serve as role models. On a side note here, the book I am reading at the moment, Mentoring Faculty of Color, is very relevant on this particular issue (even if it may not go as much into working class directly). 
Some things from the actual session where the article was discussed:

  • The college is working strongly on interracial relations (Black and White mainly, but others too). This is part of the eight Great Commitments of Berea College. There is still much work to be done. 
  • A suggestion was made for future convocation events to have discussion times with safe, facilitated spaces. I have mentioned this as well to at least one member of the campus committee in charge of the convocations. The way things are set up now, students have their departmental labor meetings right after convocations, so basically they have to rush out after the convocation to the labor meetings, which are required. I suggested moving the labor meetings to a different day of week, which could also allow then for the discussion spaces to be created. However, it is a big undertaking to achieve such a change, so I don't foresee it happening any time soon. It is a pity because, outside of some classes that may require students to attend a specific convocation (usually one related to some class topic), convocation speakers and topics are rarely discussed once the event is over. I see this as an issue that needs to be addressed on the campus. 
  • Question given to the group to prompt reflection on the article: what insights on race, class, so on do you take away from the article? 

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