Tuesday, September 30, 2014

NYTimes: Why Poor Students Struggle on College Campuses

Policymakers and researchers concentrate so much on increasing college completion rates. However, the discussions rarely focus on what happens to poor and low-income students once they arrive on the college campus. The policy roundtables often ignore the importance of social and cultural capital in determining whether a student will fit in and succeed in college. When a poor student from a rural or inner city neighborhood enters the world of the elite, he or she may not relate to their wealthy peers. It is the little things -- where you went to school, knowledge of current events and high culture, and participation in certain sports or social clubs-- that can isolate a student from the campus community. Furthermore, financial setbacks (particularly the rising cost of tuition, books, housing, and transportation) can increase the likelihood that a poor student struggles and drops out of college.
Kids at the most selective colleges often struggle academically, but they are capable of doing the work. The real key is whether they feel comfortable going to professors to ask for help or teaming up with other students in study groups and to manage the workload. At that school in Brooklyn, I taught history, leading students through writing 10-page position papers with proper citations, as well as presenting and defending their work to a panel of adults. Other teachers did the same in their subjects. Through the college application process, these students had help with every step — including convincing their parents that going away to school would be a good thing.

But once those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds arrive on campus, it’s often the subtler things, the signifiers of who they are and where they come from, that cause the most trouble, challenging their very identity, comfort and right to be on that campus. The more elite the school, the wider that gap. I remember struggling with references to things I’d never heard of, from Homer to the Social Register. I couldn’t read The New York Times — not because the words were too hard, but because I didn’t have enough knowledge of the world to follow the articles. Hardest was the awareness that my own experiences were not only undervalued but often mocked, used to indicate when someone was stupid or low-class: No one at Barnard ate Velveeta or had ever butchered a deer.

Urban students face different slights but ones with a more dangerous edge. One former student was told by multiple people in his small Pennsylvania college town not to wear a hoodie at night, because it made him look “sketchy.” Standing out like that — being himself — could put him at risk.

Another link I recommend on social and cultural capital is Peter Kaufman's Guide to Succeeding in College on Everyday Sociology.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Social Work and Cultural Competence

What is cultural competence? According to Wikipedia, cultural competence "refers to an ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds, particularly in the context of human resources, non-profit organizations, and government agencies whose employees work with persons from different cultural/ethnic backgrounds." Teaching cultural competence has become increasingly important for educational and social work professionals who interact with individuals, families, groups, and communities from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) believe:
Culturally competent services are needed beyond race and ethnicity. Culturally competent social workers are also better able to address issues of gender and help persons with disabilities, older adults, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people. A working knowledge of these groups’ cultures and values helps social workers tailor care so it is effective and appropriate for their clients’ needs.

Hall wrote an excellent article on teaching cultural competence in the classroom on The New Social Worker. Furthermore, the NASWpublished a standards guidebook about cultural competence in social work practice. For social workers preparing for the licensure exams, the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) define the terms diversity and cultural competence.

Monday, September 15, 2014

For Black Graduate Students, Does Pursuing an Advanced Degree Matter After Ferguson? (Vitae)

Unlike their white and Asian peers, black graduate students must grapple with how does their intellectual work matter when society views blacks, particularly black men, with contempt. Several black PhD students struggle with balancing their intellectual pursuits and urge to engage in activism -- service that could enhance their research and personal development as emerging minority scholars in academe. These concerns -- what does it mean to be black on campus and in America? should students ignore or fight against systemic racism? -- adds stress, anxiety, and fear.

Watching and reading about the killing of Michael Brown—followed by the indelible scenes of tear-gas canisters and armored tanks—she looked down at her research on theoretical cosmology and thought to herself: “I can’t do this.”

“Who cares about cosmic inflation during the first seconds of the universe’s existence when black people are getting shot left and right by police officers and vigilantes?” she remembers thinking. “I felt guilty. I wanted to go to Ferguson. I wanted to be a body in the streets and a barrier between the police and my people.”

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Lifehack: 18 Things Mentally Strong People Do

I love this Lifehack.com infographic because I follow these principles in my personal and professional development. These are good self-care habits to follow.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Why Race Still Matters and Divides America after Ferguson, MO

Everyday Sociology blogger and professor, Peter Kaufman, published an excellent post on the lingering effects (and invisibility) of race in America that unfolded after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. Race often intertwines with class, affecting the type of schools we attend, the neighborhoods we live, and the types of jobs we can obtain. The mass media further divides this country when people from different races living in the same community don't see eye-to-eye on the same issue, as several Pew Research reports discovered. It is a travesty that Americans want to ignore race and white privilege, yet race continues to be the most significant factor in determining who gets ahead educationally and financially in the United States. Check out this informative blog post:

Let’s be totally honest about the Michael Brown incident: it is all about race. When was the last time we read about an unarmed upper-class white male being killed by the police—much less by a Black police officer? How many predominantly white communities around the United States have a police force comprised predominantly of officers of color? And when unarmed white men or women are shot by the police, are there ever public opinion polls to even ascertain if race is significant?

To think that the case of Michael Brown (or Trayvon Martin, Ezell Ford, Oscar Grant, Anthony Dwain Lee, or any of the other unarmed Black males who were fatally shot) is not about race is to be oblivious and ignorant about the social, historical, and political landscape of the United States. Since its very beginning and continuing to the present day, our country has been shaped, scarred, and defined by race. This is a basic sociological premise. As a sociologist, I’m grappling with how so many people can lack this elementary understanding of the society in which we live.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Washington Post: Why Sally can’t get a good job with her college degree

Welcome back to classes! As you navigate your way through the fall semester (or quarter), focus on your academic and professional goals.

This article in the Washington Post examines the realities of college graduates who cannot find work in their field, particularly women who make up 60 percent of all college graduates in the U.S.

Poor Sally. She has spent tens of thousands of dollars and four long years to get her college degree and has $26,000 in student loans to pay off, yet she can’t find a job that puts her degree to good use. Sally and her parents may be asking whether college was “worth it.”

Sally epitomizes many of her fellow college graduates who wonder why college graduates can’t find good jobs.

The experts give all sorts of explanations for Sally’s plight.

One of the most perplexing and frustrating explanations is that Sally is over-educated....

This analysis leads to a final reason why Sally can’t get a good job with her college degree.

She has the wrong degree.

Students with traditional liberal arts degrees frequently find themselves underemployed, while students with degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) have little trouble finding good jobs in their profession. Nine out of the top 10 least underemployed majors are in STEM (law is the exception).

Women, however, aren’t studying STEM. Biology is the only STEM degree among the top 10 most popular bachelor’s degrees for women, and it comes in slightly above English language and literature as a preferred degree. Moreover, women aren’t making up for this gap by studying science and technology in graduate school — not a single STEM subject makes it among the top 10 master’s degrees for women.