Friday, November 6, 2020

How first-generation and low-income students access and survive higher education

First-generation and low-income students are often viewed through a deficit lens. This perpetuates dysfunctional discrimination as well as sometimes internalized oppression among students from these backgrounds. Mariette Jackson and Ngoc Tran remind us to switch to seeing what it is about first-generation and low-income students' identity that actually helps them be successful.

The "hidden curriculum" is one of the major challenges for first-generation students because of its complex and opaque customs and expectations. One of the most challenging dynamics of navigating the hidden curriculum is that its power is not recognized, resulting in it being even more difficult to learn how to be successful in it.

Even the way campuses communicate belonging can be problematic. It's common for faculty and staff to admonish students to "find their place" both inside and outside of class. Unfortunately, this message puts the onus of responsibility on the student which can result in a sense of failure or rejection. Particularly for students who are in a minority cultural status, "find your place" does not recognize that there are systems in place that ignore or push away students who are different.

The hidden curriculum and encouragement to students that they "find their place" also neglect to address insidious issues that keep students of different cultural backgrounds from interacting with each other. Even the residential environments that are offered at some colleges/universities as the panacea for cross-cultural engagement can result in systemic separations. Whether it's the way students apply for spaces, the cost associated with different accommodations, or individual preferences, student development educators should pay attention to how students are sorted/assigned to residential spaces.

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