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Recognizing, Valuing, Supporting

HannahB's picture

Since the beginning of my sophomore year, I have worked extensively in Haverford’s Office of Admissions. My experience in these various roles and, in particular, my understanding of Haverford’s desire to attract and create a diverse student body—has led me to think much more critically about the types of supports we provide to students who actually enroll at Haverford. It is one thing to attract a diverse student body; it is another to support and cultivate that diversity.  

In particular, one thing that really concerns me is Haverford’s lack of explicit support for first-generation college students and students coming from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Haverford has clear support systems in place for students of color, regardless of class background, including special weekends for prospective students, affinity clubs, etc. But I worry that a comparable system of support is lacking for low-income white students.

This issue first really came to the forefront for me when I learned that one of my friends was a first-generation college student. He and I had been casually playing tennis over the summer, talking about our families, when I first learned about his background and his journey to Haverford. I’m embarrassed to say that because of the way he dressed and acted, I had always just assumed he came from a comparable class background to my own.

This small encounter sparked a newfound awareness in me. I began to realize that, in general, I think all white students at Haverford are clumped together in a very wide, though assumed middle class category. This reality both stems from and is perpetuated by, I think, the lack of explicit supports for first-generation college students and students coming from low income backgrounds, regardless of race.

I believe this example raises important questions about what forms of multiculturalism we think about, talk about, and support. It also sheds light on this notion of intersectionality. White privilege and class privilege are not uniformly manifest across all individuals. This diversity of experience is so important to recognize as a multicultural educator and multicultural human being. While I’m embarrassed about the assumption I made, I think it is fairly typical in our society. Unfortunately, class and race are too often conflated in dangerous ways—leading to a lack of understanding, lack of support and lack of true recognition of other human beings.



jccohen's picture

assumptions about class


Although I understand (and can identify with) your embarrassment about your assumption re: your friend's class background, I also want to point up that while we can increase our awareness and sensitivity - always - it's also true that there will be those aspects of others' identities that we don't pick up on at any given moment.  I think of this in terms of Hall's way of talking about 'differance' in its relationality, nuance, and fluidity.

On a more institutional level, you make an important point about recognizing/supporting first-gen and other lower-income white students in colleges like ours.  And yet 'recognition' and 'support' are themselves tricky, can be conflated with another set of assumptions...  I'm really curious about your thinking on this -- are there ways that you envision the college moving forward on this?