Social and economic mobility is one of the freedoms of our time. To a degree, anyone with the required academic ability can attend any university. What is rarely discussed is how students struggle to take that first step and move out of poverty, through higher education.
A degree improves the chances of becoming socially mobile. Unfortunately students that come from diverse backgrounds can struggle to navigate life at university. They are just not prepared to deal with the socioeconomic pressure of being a full time student.
Facebook has given these students a voice through an anonymous group called Class Confession. Those students who are facing sometimes insurmountable challenges can vent, get support, and express themselves without fear of being socially stigmatized.
“#560: I remember one time I couldn’t afford a metro card to go pick up my first paycheck after I had not worked in 4 months at 168th street in the medical center.
I had exactly $1.74 in my bank account. I remember walking from 116th street to 168th that day just reflecting on the situation.
Class Confessions serves to illuminate the unique experiences of people from different socioeconomic backgrounds. The idea behind this group launched by FLIP (First-Generation Low-Income Partnership) at Columbia University is to encourage struggling students to share their stories and reach out for support.
These underlying student struggles highlight that Ivy league Universities in particular may not be equipped to provide appropriate pastoral and financial support, with more privileged classmates struggling to relate to the challenges these students face.
Toni Airaksinen, who introduced the concept through his work with FLIP sees it as a vehicle to remove the social stigma and fear that surrounds student struggle.
“Since starting Class Confessions, many students have felt comfortable enough to approach me in person to talk about their struggles, but this still happens far too infrequently. I have listened while people tell me about their feelings of cultural alienation, lamenting their need to economize by skipping meals, or speaking in hushed tones about the prospect of being homeless during the summer. And although these students feel secure talking to me, it is still too difficult to seek out listeners on this campus.”
Having been the first of my family to attend university; I understand this issue fully, working full-time throughout my degree. I appreciate that navigating the socioeconomic landscape is often as challenging as the course itself, with little or no support outside of applying of financial aid.
Universities have opened their doors to a wider demographic with positive action campaigns and initiatives that encourage those from different socioeconomic backgrounds to enroll.
The majority of these students have no choice but to work full time, to make ends meet with complex family backgrounds; often they are alone or emerging from a dysfunctional home situation.
The reality is that students with potential to add value to the workforce and improve diversity get defeated by the very vehicle set up to assist them. These students fall foul of socioeconomic challenges related to gaining the qualifications that will set them free.
[image credit/usnews.com Video/Olivia Crellin/BBC]