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Author Topic: I'm the only working class academic I know...  (Read 146244 times)
gbrown
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« on: July 21, 2010, 9:03:26 PM »

I'm working at a cc in a not-very-big town and surprisingly, I'm the only working class academic I know. Everyone who works at this college is from an educated family. Everyone received support (emotional and financial) to get their degrees. Many were encouraged to move into academe, too.

Although I've made friends here, I feel odd... like I don't belong. I know that's me and my stuff, but it feels real. I've just joined a yahoo group called Working Class and Poverty Class Academic (WCPCA) to sort of stave off the loneliness, but there's not a lot of people to talk to about this.

I know people want to be friendly and there will be a lot of people who think that this doesn't (or shouldn't) make any difference, but other working class folks who have moved into education will know what I'm talking about.

Any others who started out working class that might want to join me on the WCPCA site? Or e-mail off site?
« Last Edit: July 21, 2010, 9:03:55 PM by gbrown » Logged

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dismalist
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« Reply #1 on: July 21, 2010, 9:52:07 PM »

I'm with you, brother! Rarely had any social difficulties, though. Many people in academia, as elsewhere, are boors, and they are easy to outclass in multiple dimensions. There was recently a most idiotic exchange in the Fora about the proper use of the fork, e.g. But you do find good people everywhere.

Fitzgerald: "The rich are different from us."
Hemingway: "Yes, they have more money".

One could say the same about the educated.
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larryc
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« Reply #2 on: July 21, 2010, 9:56:16 PM »

I am working class. It is as important as you make it.
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bosola
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« Reply #3 on: July 22, 2010, 2:43:28 PM »

Big logical leap from "I am the only working class academic I know" to EVERYONE at the college being from an "educated" family.  Do you really  know the background of every single one of your colleagues in every department?
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gennimom
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« Reply #4 on: July 22, 2010, 2:49:53 PM »

Huh. Everyone I know in my field is working class, children of farmers, or in the few cases of having academic parents, children of professors in the same field. If you have one of my departments in your school, there are a bunch of people there in your situation.
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prufrock
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« Reply #5 on: July 22, 2010, 5:05:11 PM »

I remember hearing a great piece -- a personal essay, I think -- on NPR on this topic several years back.  The essayist's moment of clarity came when she realized that when her department chair said "I'm building a cottage by the lake" (or something like that) that he meant something different than what she would mean if she uttered that sentence.  Someone in her working class world who uttered that sentence meant that they were swinging a hammer, sawing 2x4's, etc.  In her chair's (upper-)middle class world, it meant that he had hired someone to do swing the hammer for him, but he got to appropriate their labor as his own when he spoke of it.   
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redweather
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« Reply #6 on: July 23, 2010, 10:17:22 AM »

I can't say family background has ever come up in my teaching experience.  What makes you feel odd about coming from a working-class family?  It would be one thing if you could prove, for instance, that you were denied tenure because you didn't come from the right kind of family.  Absent something discriminatory like that, it seems like a non-starter to me. 
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duchess_of_malfi
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« Reply #7 on: July 23, 2010, 10:54:53 AM »

I'm not from a working-class background, but I know some of what you mean.  Many people think that class differences in academia are inconsequential or inappropriate to discuss, either in origin or as class operates within the work.  They might not see how social mobility works in their students' lives, either.  Similar to Prufrock's example about an a-ha moment, in an article about the listserv you mention, one faculty member said "she realized why she feels uncomfortable at those department receptions where big career moves ride on the small talk: 'Poor people, when we talk to each other, we sit down. We don't stand with a wine glass and little plate of stuff trying to balance everything.'"  Another said, "From the day you arrive you don't know the rules."  A survey of faculty members at a Big Ten university "found that more than half of the 567 respondents said their parents were doctors, lawyers or other professionals. Only about 2 percent reported having parents from the lowest 20 percent of the socioeconomic ladder, with backgrounds such as janitors or cooks." (Community College Week 2001 13, no. 13).

If you do a search for "working class academic" in the book and article areas of your library's site, you will find some scholarship of varying types and quality on the topic.  This article includes an overview of much of that work:  Mazurek, Raymond A. 2009. "Work and Class in the Box Store University: Autobiographies of Working-Class Academics." College Literature 36, no. 4: 147-178.  Also, there have been a few articles in the Chronicle about the topic, some pretty recently.


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daphnetree
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« Reply #8 on: July 23, 2010, 12:15:19 PM »

OP,
I'm genuinely sorry that you are feeling isolated. That being said, I find it strange that you would experience such class warfare at cc of all places.

You mentioned that the cc is in a small town. My alma mater is in a small, rural town where about seven families seemed to run everything: businesses, politics, etc. Even though it was the most vivid example of an oligarchy I'd ever seen, my experience there was far from vile. I simply stayed away from the elements that made me uncomfortable and found other like-minded people.

I know that your situation is different, but you should definitely consider broadening your social network. One thing that surprised me after I finished graduate school and entered the workforce was how much I enjoyed interacting with colleagues from other departments. You may be surprised, too.

I'll leave you with another piece of advice I've always found to ring true:
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."- Eleanor Roosevelt
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duchess_of_malfi
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« Reply #9 on: July 23, 2010, 12:43:14 PM »

Where did the OP express "class warfare" or feeling "inferior"?
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adjunctatlas
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« Reply #10 on: July 25, 2010, 6:17:46 AM »

Thomas H. Benton wrote an article for the Chronicle about class and academia; I think it appeared last year.  Unfortunately, since the COHE changed its website, I can't find a link to past columns or to columnists.  Maybe I'm just befuddled by all the pictures and the many columns--the page is so much busier than it used to be.  If you are better at navigating the page, and you find the article, mind posting a link here?
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busyslinky
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« Reply #11 on: July 25, 2010, 6:50:24 AM »

Maybe these two?

http://chronicle.com/article/A-Class-Traitor-in-Academe/46556/
http://chronicle.com/article/Confessions-of-a-Middlebrow/48644

My background is immigrant family, growing up in inner city, free lunches at school, etc. 

Never really spoke to my colleagues about their backgrounds, surprised you know so much.  Also surprised that CC would have almost everyone there from high social classes (whatever that means).
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mended_drum
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« Reply #12 on: July 25, 2010, 8:03:55 AM »

I've been in social situations in academia where I was the only person from a working class background.  It can make a difference at some points in your life, particularly when discussions turn to material things like houses and cars (if you're still struggling out of debt or supporting family members) or if your taste in entertainment doesn't match theirs (before I went to grad school, I hadn't met anyone who bragged about not owning a tv or only watching PBS).  And then there's the question of whether or not you feel comfortable introducing your visiting relatives to your colleagues (something that happens a lot at my SLAC).

I agree with Larryc, though, that eventually you can make peace with the situation and even embrace it without sounding shrill or bitter.  It helped me to attend a few conferences a year where I met other working class academics in my field. 
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monita
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« Reply #13 on: July 25, 2010, 10:40:43 AM »

And then there's the question of whether or not you feel comfortable introducing your visiting relatives to your colleagues (something that happens a lot at my SLAC).

This can be a problem.  I come from the lowest SES bracket of anyone I know, and it rarely comes up.  But, my dad - who never leaves his holler - actually came to the city for my graduation.  He acted like it was some sort of sporting event, with a big old beer, flannel shirt, baseball hat, chaw of tobacco, the whole shebang  (he'd say WHOOOOO! every now and then - we could all see him from the PhD section on the floor).  He just about got kicked out the ceremony. 

Afterwards, my advisor said "I'm sorry I couldn't find you after graduation.  I would have liked to meet your family."  <gulp>
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spider_jerusalem
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« Reply #14 on: July 25, 2010, 12:03:28 PM »

About a third of the academics I've ever known (whose backgrounds I knew) were working class or lower middle class, but that's probably a function of where I've lived. I have several academic friends who were also the first/only member of their families to obtain a college degree of any kind.

I believe that a lot of academics will think you're more "real" if they know about your background, so don't sweat it. At the very least I think most will be impressed that you accomplished what you did when you didn't share their advantages. As for folks who may look down on you, they are few and far between IMO, and I say screw 'em.
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