Elizabeth Turpin ’22
Trinity College hosted a common hour event in which Dr. Anthony Abraham Jack spoke about his book, The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges are Failing Disadvantaged Students.
Jack graduated with a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2016. He is now the Assistant Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows. His book was published on Mar. 1, 2019. Since publication, Jack has embarked on a book tour,
To begin, Jack described his experience growing up as a lower-income, first generation student aspiring to attend an elite college without the resources of a well-funded secondary education. His situation as a disadvantaged high school student forced him to take initiative to create his own opportunities. College preparatory resources were something that he had to actively seek out, and, at times, found that they were simply not available. This attitude toward educational resources followed him into his college education. He said of his experience, “rest was a luxury I felt I could not afford.”
Jack characterized students in a situation similar to his as the “doubly disadvantaged.” These are students that are faced with economic and structural disadvantages going into college. On the other hand, he described students that face economic challenges but are given the opportunity of an elite secondary education as the “privileged poor.” The use of the word “privileged” in the term is due to the advantage these students gain in being exposed to elite education prior to college. He then addressed how both groups struggle to take advantage of all the resources that are provided by their institutions. He gave the example of office hours, explaining how professors never define the purpose or the process behind them. This is part of what he refers to as the “hidden curriculum” (unspoken expectations for students success propagated by an institution).
The problem arises when a student who is “doubly disadvantaged” doesn’t understand the importance placed on office hours, having never been granted this resource or offered an explanation as to its significance. This student may even think not taking advantage of office hours is more advantageous being that they were able to achieve their success thus far without the additional assistance. Because of the “hidden curriculum,” the institution will see this student as not being proactive and react accordingly. A student who is in the “privileged poor” group will already have an insight into the “hidden curriculum” and will not struggle to take advantage of their resources, but this is not the only disadvantage that some students face.
Another example thatJack considers a critical issue on college campuses is the lack of food for students that stay on campus during spring break and other college recesses. Although the “privileged poor” can take advantage of the opportunities the college makes available to them, they are reminded of their economic disadvantage when they are faced with the issue of food insecurity during breaks. Jack recalled his own experiences seeing shuttered dining halls and maintaining a reserve of food for these insecure periods. .
These are both examples, Jack states, that illustrate how colleges are non-inclusive and ignorant of their students’ needs. He concludes that the disadvantages students face are not problems they are responsible for resolving; they are problems for the administration of the institution. For Jack, part of the responsibility of claiming to have a diverse student body is creating an inclusive environment for students of all backgrounds. He insisted that students should expect more from their institution before they are reduced to data used in achieving the diversity quota. Before opening the floor to questions, Jack relayed a powerful final message. He advised students to “dare to demand as much of Trinity as Trinity demands of you.”