Here’s something no one tells you about college: once you’ve decided to go, there’s a lot of changes you’ll need to adapt to. This summer I was a communications intern at a research institute about five miles from my university. During my lunch breaks, I frequently drove through the main campus en route to my desired eatery, and often saw groups of prospective freshmen touring the campus.

Each time I saw these groups, I would think back to all the advice I was given before starting college, some of which was really helpful.

However, the majority of the tips I received came from either my parents’ friends who went to college in the ‘70s and ‘80s, or from Internet listicles that told me to make college “the best four years of my life,” but didn’t explain how.

In an effort to create a better list of what college freshmen should know before move-in day, I cast a net out on social media and asked my friends and followers to tell me about the best college tips they received.

Here is what I found:

1. Decide what is and isn’t important

One thing college will do to you is make you realize there aren’t enough hours in the day. And while everyone is going to tell you to “get involved with as many things as possible,” the truth is that it’s just not feasible.

When it comes to your course load, extracurricular activities, work, new friends you’re meeting, and old friends you want to keep, you’re going to have to decide where each falls on your priority list.

“The best advice someone ever gave me as a freshman was … that is was okay to be selfish and to make decisions that are going to make me the best version of myself, so that I can then be there for other people.” – Hannah Currens, junior geography major at Macalester College.

2. Make your own decisions, and live by them

Aside from a few meetings with your academic advisor, there isn’t anyone in college telling you what decisions to make. That means nobody from your high school will be pressuring you to take the same classes as them and definitely no parents to answer to about each and every grade you receive (though, if Mom and Dad are paying for your college, it’s probably a bad idea to anger them by getting Ds in your GenEds). That said, it’s up to you to decide if it’s a good idea to go to the frat party instead of study, or to skip your weekend readings and risk being unprepared for class. Again, mistakes are going to happen, but they’re forgivable as long as you can learn from them.

“It’s important to have fun in college, if you don’t you’ll go insane, but I’ve seen way too many people fail classes simply because they never go.” – Karie Langowski, junior biology and philosophy double major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

3. Lose yourself

Mahatma Gandhi once said “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” And, in classic college fashion, I’m going to ignore part of this quote to emphasize the point I’m trying to make. College is one of most useful, if not the most useful experience in determining who you are. In college you discover what you enjoy learning, what people you want to surround yourself with, what values and morals you have, what world views you believe in, and what you stand for.

Do things you never thought you would and lose yourself in things that make you happy.

“Before coming to college I never saw myself joining Greek life. But after seeing how close-knit, involved and welcoming the Greek community was, I joined and would never go back on my decision.” – Greg Donitzen, sophomore pre-middle school education major at Towson University.

4. You’re going to fail

Remember in high school how, if you didn’t do so hot on a test, it wasn’t the end of the world because there were always more exams, projects and assignments to rebound your grade? Well, spoiler alert: college isn’t like that. There isn’t much, if any, classwork, the homework is five times harder and longer than it ever was in high school, and, honestly, neither projects nor homework assignments really matter when tests count for 70 percent of your final grade (and there’s only three throughout the semester).

So whether it’s organic chemistry, calculus or the token freshman writing class, there’s going to be a time when you’re not doing well and your grades reflect that. Such a setback doesn’t mean you’re stupid or that the professor’s a jerk (though the latter might be true). Take from this one of the truest things you can learn in college: you’re going to fail, but you’re going to be okay. Pick yourself up, ask for help, and kick the crap out of the next assignment.

“I’m still learning how to fail gracefully, but I have realized failure is one thing for which high school never prepared me.” – Litty Cutchin, junior aerospace engineering major at University of Maryland.

5. You are unique, but you’re not alone

Have you ever been talking to a close friend and divulged a world view or experience that you think is completely out of the ordinary or totally unique to you and your life, only to find that your friend shares the exact same view or experience? That’s how being a college freshman is. Do you really think you’re the only one apprehensive to use the communal showers? You’re not. Do you think you’re the only one who doesn’t like the mean girls at the end of the hall? Nope, they’re rude to everyone.

The bottom line is this: while you are new, so is everyone else, and you and your fellow newbies have much more in common than you think. Don’t be afraid to talk to people about your interests and secret hobbies or how much you hate icebreakers—you may be surprised at the results.

“… Even though you may feel alone, just know everyone else is facing the same struggles whether it’s apparent or not.” – Dani Skinner, sophomore communication studies major at Grove City College.

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In late May and early June, instructors at Seattle University casted ballots on whether they wanted to unionize. Since then, not a single ballot has been counted. Instead, administrative efforts have impounded the vote and put the faculty’s unionization status in limbo.

Seattle University employs nearly 350 adjunct faculty members. Adjuncts, along with graduate student and full-time, non-tenured instructors, are referred to as contingent faculty, and make up more than 75 percent of instructors at U.S. higher education institutions, according to a 2014 report by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Democrats

The same report states that adjuncts earn an estimated annual median salary of $22,041, meaning many of them “often live on the edge of poverty,” and make less than half the amount of full-time faculty members.

“[O]n most campuses … the majority of the teaching is now done by adjunct and contingent faculty, rather than tenured-track or tenured faculty,” adjunct communications instructor Dr. Louisa Edgerly said.

Contingent faculty also lack many of the benefits offered to tenured instructors, such as job security, career growth and smaller, less varied course loads.

When Seattle University faculty attempted to address these issues with university administrators, the response was less than proactive, according to Edgerly.

The faculty then turned to unionization as a way for contingent instructors to get the same benefits and securities as tenured instructors, and filed a petition for an official vote among campus instructors on the matter to the National Labor Relations Board, a governing body for all things related to unions.

Though the NLRB approved the faculty’s initiative, university administrators appealed the decision. The administrators reasoned that the university did not fall under the state’s, and by extension the board’s, jurisdiction because of its religious affiliation. Due to the appeal, the ballots from the vote will remain impounded until a final decision is made.

“As a student, my big concern about this is that it really makes sense to support the faculty because a union would create far more longevity for faculty on this campus,” junior public affairs major Izzy Gardon said. “Odds are good that probably none of the [adjuncts] will be at this institution come the decision for this case. It’s probably gonna be 4 to 5 years away, millions of dollars in lawyer fees, and many of them won’t be here to see that.”

Gardon is the social media director for the university’s Student Coalition for Faculty Rights, an organization devoted to students supporting their faculty. In the last year, the coalition held a rally, took photos, wrote newspaper editorials and hosted “project engage,” an event where students wrote letters to the university’s president, in an effort to educate students about the pertinent issues their instructors are facing.

Gardon is also the external chief of staff for the Student Government of Seattle University, which has lent its support to the faculty and requested the withdrawal of the administration’s appeal of the NLRB decision.

“We hold forums, we publish polls, and so if you ask your average student here, we really do reflect the climate here on campus and really try to act as a barometer of student voice,” Gardon said.

According to a recent SGSU poll, 74 percent of university students support their faculty having the choice to unionize.

While their opinions may differ from those of students and faculty, Gardon added that administrators have been flexible and supportive of the coalition’s initiatives.

Seattle University has taken steps in recent years to try to improve faculty wages and benefits, including securing $5.6 million that will go towards keeping faculty and staff salaries competitive, increasing the minimum full-time annual salary from $24,600 to $42,000, and offering modified full-time faculty appointments to part-time instructors teaching more than four classes per year.

Many people at the university are looking to these measures as a starting point for more benefits and increased negotiations between faculty and administrators. Moreover, countless students are using issues like faculty unionization as a platform to improve dialogue between them and the administration and solve many of the ingrained problems in higher education.

“Student Voice isn’t just passive; it isn’t just voice; it’s action,” Gardon said. “Student voice is action, and we really need to create an environment where students can voice their opinion.”

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The word ‘queer’ can mean many things. It can be a noun or an adjective, derogatory or empowering, a reference to gender and sexual identity or a departure from normalcy. It can also be a verb. “To queer something,” according to Dr. Charlie Glickman, a sexuality educator of nearly 25 years, “is to take a look at its foundations and question them.”

For Alex Borsa, a junior molecular biophysics and women’s, gender and sexuality studies double major at Yale University, it is the verb form of queer which matters most. As the president of the university’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Student Cooperative, which serves as the umbrella organization for all of Yale’s LGBTQ groups, Borsa works to increase visibility of queer and marginalized students and make the campus a safer, more inclusive environment.

“I think student voice means not being afraid to challenge large institutions, even the administ-ration itself, on how we think Yale should be bettered.”

Borsa achieves these goals, in part, through his participation with IvyQ, an annual, inter-Ivy League LGBTQ conference that attracts 300 to 500 attendees. The conference advocates social organization, political activism and community building among LGBTQ students and groups.

“It is the only time that students are in such a large space comprised of almost only LGBTQ people,” Borsa said. “Being at a social event with 500 queer people is something most people don’t get to experience, [and] does a lot to change people. It was probably the single most transformative process I’ve been to in my college experience.”

Yale hosted the 2013 installment of the IvyQ conference, which has made its way to a different Ivy League school each year since its inception in 2010. Borsa served as a volunteer coordinator for the event, and assisted former Yale conference chair Hilary O’Connell with event production. In spite of a blizzard that struck New Haven, Connecticut, the same weekend as the conference, the Yale IvyQ team was able to deliver an event true to the mission of IvyQ, according to Borsa.

The 2013 conference offered light entertainment, such as dances, lunches and group breakout sessions, as well as 30 to 40 formal colloquiums and workshops from a series of students and guest speakers about topics including gender activism, asexuality, and the meaning of the LGBTQ community now versus in previous decades.

“These are always going to be issues,” Rebby Kern, the media communications and programs manager for Campus Pride, the leading nonprofit organization dedicated to making higher education more LGBT-friendly, said. “But if we can come to a place where we can talk about these issues … in a safe environment, I feel we’ve done our job as far as a movement.”

“Student voice is the opportunity to offer insights to improve the community or build new relationships that have never been explored before,” Huang said.

The conference also prompts discussion on issues, such as class, privilege, mental health, race and racism, that are present across many colleges and universities and affect marginalized groups related to or outside of the LGBT spectrum.

These discussions play a large role in IvyQ’s ability to “queer the campus,” or “challenge, question and deconstruct the status quo,” of the host school, Borsa said.
And as the number and diversity of the voices contributing to the conversation increases, so does the pressure on higher education to improve existing systems.

“I think student voice means not being afraid to challenge large institutions, even the administration itself, on how we think Yale should be bettered.”

In April, Yale held a weekend-long mental health and wellness event to address complaints from students and groups like IvyQ regarding the slow response times and lack of information coming from its Mental Health and Counseling Department, which 22 percent of the student body visits at least once per year, according to a 2011 report.

In the same month, Yale also held Take Back the Night, an event where students shared sexual experiences through speeches, poetry and song to raise awareness about sexual violence and community respect.

“For me personally, the idea of institutional commitment is the big thing,” D. Andrew Porter, a summer fellow at Campus Pride, said. “ [As a movement], we’re not just talking about LGBTQ students, and that’s causing campuses to look at all students who fall under that big umbrella word, ‘diversity.’”

The next IvyQ conference will be held in the fall of 2014 at Dartmouth College, which has received news coverage and student criticism in the past year concerning the school’s handling of homophobia, racism and sexism both on campus and in Dartmouth Greek life. In February, students presented the Freedom Budget, a sweeping reform that enumerated more than 70 actions the college could take that would help confront and diminish discrimination.

The school’s president, Philip J. Hanlon, and then interim provost, Martin Wybourne, released a statement in the wake of the Freedom Budget outlining steps the administration planned to take to address the students’ suggestions, such as allocating millions of dollars to hire and attract a more diverse campus faculty, and expanding a university program that supports minority groups in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

By April, however, student dissatisfaction was not quelled and resulted in protests outside the president’s office and the administration building.

For Nathen Huang, a senior psychology major at Columbia University and leader of Columbia’s IvyQ organization, Dartmouth’s hosting of the conference comes at an opportune time, one in which the school’s administration is primed to listen to the voices of campus students.

“Student voice is the opportunity to offer insights to improve the community or build new relationships that have never been explored before,” Huang said. “Even if not every one who goes to IvyQ comes from the activist community, there are also people who [are involved in other ways], and they’re able to express their own ideas and opinions.”

Going forward, Borsa, Huang and fellow IvyQ members want to increase access to the conference through additional funding so more people can contribute to the discussion. They also hope the organization continues to spark conversation between university officials and students about how to better educational environments.

“It’s important for everyone to think of these things,” Borsa said. “That doesn’t mean you have to be on the front lines of everything, but it does mean that it’s important to think about how social factors shape your everyday life. IvyQ challenges people to see things in a different way.”

(Dartmouth’s Office of Pluralism and Leadership did not respond to Student Voice’s request for comment before this story’s publication).

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At the beginning of our existence, we grew quickly through the stages of maturity until we became the people we are today. During early development we acquire understanding of the freedoms, choices, and rules that structure how our society functions, through hands-on exploration, curiosity and questioning, and a desire to model behaviors of those around us. However, to the child, equity is determined on a peer-to-peer basis on who is given “extra playtime” or another refill of juice. Children conceptualize the world in terms of “what I have” verses “what you have” and distinguish those differences that comprise these inequities. Through time, we may begin to learn and struggle with how equity is applicable to other aspects of life. One of these inequities is the lack of awareness, value and need for the Student Voice.

One may be thinking, “What do you mean by ‘the Student Voice?’” Students are, after all, attending schools, participating in sports, and choosing to undertake extra-curricular activities outside the classroom. Students may have long breaks from school (in contrast to the typical 9-5 work week) or even have snow days! The lives of students seem to be that of freedom; but I challenge one to deepen his or her understanding of the designated role students have today.

In the early 1900s during the Industrial Revolution, the need for workers with relative equal set skills entailed schooling to provide standardized training to be successful in this field of work. Long rows of seats facing the front of the room, chalk to write directions on the board, and a bell to signal the dismissal for the end of the day were symbols typically connected with this time. Students were expected to listen and learn, as empty jars that needed to be filled. While each of us has the capacity for lifelong learning, we must recognize that despite a number that describes our age, we all have unique experiences, creativity and insights to share.

Students sadly are still expected and even considered incapable of being creative or valuable in the Education Policy and Reform efforts so commonly taking place today. Students are going to school, living by the deliberations and consequences that have been made by people who may not fully understand what it means to be a student in the 21st century. Students see this inequity in perspective and aspire to be engaged in these education discussions, implementations and assessments rather than be passive in the communities’ efforts.

Student Voice is uniting students who feel stifled and suppressed, but yet at the same time are yearning to express their voice and be perceived as assets. Students are networking through participating in Twitter Meetings, authoring blog posts and connecting with like-minded individuals who have a passion for creating change. While teachers form their Personal Learning Networks (PLNs), students too are creating their own Student Learning Networks (SLNs) to support, encourage and celebrate youth leadership. We are not just talkers, but we are activators who seek out ways to incite meaningful change in our communities and conduct educational awareness on challenges facing students and teachers today.

Students are talking, but is anyone listening? Many express they want change and say they are supporting students, but do we value only what correlates with our ideas? I encourage us to remove the ‘headphones of our self-fulfilling prophecy’ and truly invest in students’ contributions, proposals and leadership. If we commit for change, I challenge all to re-examine our perceptions of how students are the leaders of change for today and tomorrow.

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Like many college graduates across the nation, I’ve spent the last few weeks being fed anecdotes and exposes about what life is really like in the post-graduate abyss. I’ve heard words ranging from “scary” to “exciting”, “stressful” to “stimulating”. It’s easy to empathize with this anxiety and sense of the unknown that seems almost universal across the Class of 2014. Taxes, retirement savings plans, and insurance plans are about as comprehensible to some college graduates as hieroglyphics. The idea of finding our “passion” and our “purpose” looms as we try to remain “flexible” in the job search and justify our intriguing prospects for post-graduate employment.

A lot of people have been asking me one strange and daunting question, “What do you feel like you’ve taken away from college? What advice do you have for other students?” Yikes. It left me thinking back to what I didn’t know as a freshman. Disclaimer: I can’t claim to be an expert. I haven’t written any New York Times bestsellers or gotten any PhDs. Do not take these words as those of a specialist, preacher, or guru, but simply a student. If you are a high school student, college freshman or even a graduate like myself, I present to you a collection of lessons I’ve learned at the University of Maryland that I wish I knew earlier:

Identify Your Own Vehicles For Success – What does success mean to you? For the longest time, I thought it meant getting a good job and making money. Standard. Through college however, I’ve gone on to expand my perspective of success and now I feel that my definition revolves around empowering and inspiring people. My sense of pride arises from teaching and helping others. Your definition of success will change, as will your habits. It’s not bad to take advice and learn some new useful habits, but don’t force something upon yourself that will not fulfill you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been recommended books about “What The Top Ten Most Successful People Do Daily.” If you strive to emulate your life around others, you’ll lose track of what works for you. If you write your best papers the night before they are due, don’t let people tell you that you “should be more organized” or that you “should plan better.” If you’re nocturnal and do your best work at night, embrace it. Different things work for different people. Personally, I worked best under pressure, procrastinated a lot, and was fine. Find out what you want, find out what works best for you and don’t succumb to what societal pressure tells you is “the best way”. The best way is different for everyone.

People Are Your Greatest Resources – There’s a big myth that the most you learn in college will be from classes or textbooks. The best resources for education are in fact, your classmates and other students. Reach out and learn about what interests, hobbies, and passions others have. Think back to your own life. There have probably been one or two things you’ve been really passionate about that have come as a result of a conversation or a conceptual introduction by individuals. Cherish the differences between you and your peers. Always ask yourself “What can I learn from this person?” when you meet someone new. Maybe you’ll learn something about a new country, a new background, a new food, or maybe even a new form of dance. The possibilities are endless! Not everyone may interest you and not everyone may be your best friend; there is a strong chance, however, that you will find something unique in every individual that you have never seen before. If you find yourself isolated in your room, go down the hall and ask someone about his or her future aspirations. It’s way easier than it sounds!

Your Primary Barrier Will Be Yourself – I can’t apply to that internship because my GPA isn’t high enough. I’m not fast enough for intramural soccer. I’m too busy to rush a fraternity or join a club this semester. I’m not smart enough. I’m not qualified enough. So many students wake up and tell themselves they are incapable or unable to pursue something. I was a victim of this when I was an underclassman as well. I felt as a freshman that I was not old enough or capable enough to apply to certain programs and try new things. Tell yourself this: It’s way better to live life with “oh wells” than “what ifs”. You apply to the internship and don’t get it. Oh well. You’re nervous to participate in a business case competition, sign up, learn a lot, but don’t place in the competition. Oh well. You won’t be plagued by thoughts of what would’ve happened if you hadn’t done the competition or neglected to apply to the internship. All of our life experiences, even our failures, can lead us closer to new opportunities. Don’t deny yourself an opportunity. Take a risk. The worst thing that can happen is you saying, “Oh well, this wasn’t for me. Time to move on”.

Embrace Uncertainty – Approximately 70% of college students will change their major atleast once. If you feel uncertain about life, academics, and your career, don’t let it get you down! There is no greater graduation cliché than “follow your dream”; a lot of people will ask you your major and what you want to be when you grow up. Keep into consideration that whatever your dream is right now, it might change. It might change in a year. It might change in a week. Allow it to. You don’t have to know what you want to do and there are just as many people who embrace many different careers, passions and purposes. The hardest part about switching majors is to take a step back and admit to ourselves that what we have been doing will not contribute to our happiness. We are scared to remove ourselves from our dreams because we don’t want to admit we were wrong. Keeping our goals open to change and expansion isn’t a bad thing. Learn some cutting-edge technology. Write a blog. Pick up the game of Tennis or the art of Yoga. Embrace the possibility of change and take it year by year. One of my favorite quotes is “Not all those who wander are lost”. For someone who has changed their major close to nine times in college, this quote has resonated so much with me. As long as you are enjoying the journey, everything will work itself out in the end.

The biggest takeaway from college is that the real experience starts at the end of your comfort zone. Whether it’s meeting others, taking a class outside of your line of study, going to a Hackathon, or joining a club, make sure that you are able to grow within the four years you have. With the rise of tuition rates, there is even more pressure for you to get the most out of your college experience; make the return worth it for yourself. Congratulations Class of 2014!

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My informant, Michael, and I had immensely different upbringings in contrasting socioeconomic environments and, as a result, our lives, goals, and attainments have been constructed accordingly.  These socioeconomic factors contributed in shaping two diverse paths to personal as well as eduational attainments. I will analyze how family background and dynamics including race, community, class, family structure, and peer groups have affected and influenced our pathways into adulthood. Although each factor is distinct with its own unique characteristics, these factors can link together to construct social patterns and assist in forming a continual, cyclical process that is difficult to escape. Essentially, one factor contributes to the next and thus a repetitive cycle is born in which a social hierarchy is established; wealth and resources to opportunities such as higher education, stay in the hands of those who can afford it and those who cannot are left wanting.

Michael Davis is a 17 year old African American male. His mother grew up in Oakland, California, and his father in the nearby urban city of Richmond. His mom received a high school degree, but did not attend college. His father was a high school dropout who joined a gang at the age of 17, was arrested for selling drugs and remained mostly absent from Michael’s life. Michael’s mom, Tracy, did the best she could to give him a good life and raised him in Oakland. They moved to several homes they could not afford, and were subsequently evicted from, until they eventually settled in a small two-bedroom apartment in a predominantly poor, African American neighborhood. Michael and his mom are considered to be in the lower second fifth, lower class, and an in-person server household. Michael attends a local public high school and hopes to one day play football professionally. However the biggest obstacle Michael must face first is getting into college. Michael describes, “The high school I go to, most kids end up dropping out. If they do graduate, only a few go to college.” Michael and his football teammate, Darius, have their eyes set on a scholarship. Michael explains, “Most of my friends cannot afford to go to college. Darius and I are hoping to work hard enough to receive football scholarships so we can one day go pro. Without a scholarship, I wouldn’t go to college. No one in my family ever has.”


Contrastingly, I am a white female and live in Walnut Creek, California. My family lives comfortably and is able to afford a higher standard of living. Both of my parents achieved a college degree which allowed them to attain steady jobs after graduating. My mom graduated on an academic scholarship from St. Mary’s College and my dad worked two jobs to put himself through Cal Berkeley. My dad currently holds a job with Deloitte and makes a steady annual income. Based upon the Income Quantile chart, my family of six would be placed at the top 5%, considered an upper class family, and a symbolic analyst household. I was also privileged to attend a Catholic, private elementary school where books and a variety of quality educational resources were provided for me.  I continued my private education as I attended Carondelet high school in Concord. There I was immersed in a community in which education was a top priority. At my high school, over 98% of the students continue on to college. Between my high school and my parents’ expectations, going to college was simply a given for me.   Thus, in examining Michael’s and my disparate backgrounds, one realizes that there are multiple factors that stand out and affect one’s future direction in life.

Race is an initial, primary factor indicating one’s likely attainments. It plays a big role in determining the educational and occupational realizations of a person and in many cases has a direct correlation to the community in which one is raised. Minorities, especially blacks in inner cities, face problems many whites/the majority do not. According to Dalton Conley, nonwhites, especially African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans, fall behind whites on a number of social issues, ranging from annual household income, to educational opportunities one receives, to high crime and violence rates (Conley 345). As these situations occur in mostly black communities, they trigger other hardships including unfavorable living conditions and lack of access to resources and opportunities.  Conley explains that, “Blacks are half as likely as whites to graduate college or hold a professional or managerial job, and are twice as likely to be unemployed and to die before their first year of life” (Conley 497). Conley also provides statistics in which the median family net worth for white families is almost ten times greater than those of black families. With this increasing poverty in black communities, education is often unattainable, unaffordable, and unrealistic.

So simply by being black, Michael is already at a disadvantage.  Growing up in Oakland, in a predominantly poor African American community, Michael’s opportunities to a successful future were much slimmer than mine. In his community, education is not a top priority, survival is. Schools are poorly funded and many times, inadequately staffed. Those who do attend high school often do not receive the needed resources to move on to a higher education. And, if presented with the opportunity to go to college, most could not afford it. According to American Fact Finder, in Michael’s community, only 18% have college degrees. Additionally, not only does Michael have to overcome the educational barrier his community poses, he has to face ongoing violence and gang pressure on a daily basis. Michael states, “When I was only 13, I had my first encounter with a gang.”  However, Michael’s mom, recognizing the dangerous affects of gang association, involved Michael in football at a young age in hopes that he would stay away from the gangs in his community. She knew that football could redirect his energy and time toward what would hopefully be a more positive outlet in his life.  He reflects, “Football was the best thing I could have gotten into. With so many drugs, violence, and gangs in my community, football was my way around it all. I’m blessed to have stuck with it and I pray it’ll lead me to college as well as the NFL.” Football essentially acts as Michael’s outlet and ticket to a chance at higher education. Many in his community rely on outlets like this, however it becomes a reality to only a select few. Thus, Michael’s race affected him because it influenced his community and surrounding environment that unfortunately offers him and others very little upward mobility.


Although I am of mixed nationalities, most predominantly Hispanic and Irish, my three siblings and I would be classified primarily as white or Caucasian.  My race, being a part of the “majority,” has provided me with many more opportunities than Michael was given.  Raised in a community where there was little violence and much access to well-funded educational resources, I was exposed to a more privileged lifestyle. My community featured several large public libraries, tutoring resources, a well-supervised and safe Park and Recreation Department and highly ranked private and public schools. My parents took advantage of these resources and we often visited libraries as a family.  I remember my mom setting up a summer reading program for my siblings and I down at the library.  Each summer we would compete to see who could read more books on the library list.  We also participated in the Park and Rec enrichment courses and athletic programs that were offered after school and during the summer months.  During the summer, we each could take two “fun” classes and one academic one.  Since, the community was safe, my mom could drop us off and not have to worry about our safety down at the local park or community center.  We were kept busy and safe as we were nurtured on different levels: physically, socially and academically.  As a result, I was engaged in an environment where education was readily attainable, valued, and commonly achieved.

Along with one’s race, class is another significant determinant of one’s future outcome and success in life. Conley observes, “Social class is composed of any combination of parental educational attainment, parental occupational status, family income, and family wealth. Students whose parents have higher levels of any of these four measures of class generally enjoy better educational opportunities. Higher-class students obtain more years of schools, get better grades, are more likely to complete high school before age 19, score higher on cognitive tests, and are more likely to be placed in higher tracks” (Conley 493).  Having a steady income not only benefits educational opportunities, but it also aids in shaping a child’s developmental growth. There are several theories explaining how family income impacts children. One theory focuses on the material deprivation that low income families experience including lack of nutrition, medical care, and a safe/nurturing environment (Callan et al., 1993;Mack&Lansley, 1985;McGregor &Borooah, 1992; Ringen, 1987). As a result, low income households are less likely to have resources associated with healthy development. Michael and I are affirming testaments of this. Michael’s family income limits much of his ability to access educational and other resources. His family income is largely spent on basic essentials such as food and rent rather than books, school, and enrichment classes. As a result, in the classroom, Michael is at a disadvantage having not been exposed to these resources, and the subsequent knowledge they provide.  However, my parents’ income, prior education, and status allows me the opportunity to have access to not only top schools, but extra tutoring and enrichment courses to further my success. At an early age I was exposed to multiple educational materials, toys and books that helped aid my growth and direct me on a path towards education.  Conversely, Michael’s mom simply could not afford these extra tools, as the cost of providing them would be too excessive.  Her focus needed to be on the basics of existing: of providing food and shelter and doing her best to keep her son safe in a violent neighborhood.


A third critical factor which serves as a determinant of one’s achievements is family structure. In dual-headed households, having two contributors rather than one, often benefits the family financially and developmentally. In a two-parent environment, children are able to be both provided for and cared for.  According to Ermisch and other statistical evidence, time and money invested in a child, affect his/her growth and personal, educational, and occupational attainments.  In a single parent household, a child often lacks the necessary time, attention from parent and resources needed to be well-nurtured. Children whose single parent works significant hours (full time or more) during their early developmental stages have fewer successes and educational accomplishments when compared to children who had at least one parent spending some time at home with them, reading, conversing, and/or playing with them daily (Ermisch 2000). It is crucial, especially when a child is young, to spend some personal time with that child in a nurturing environment that promotes the importance of education.  Michael’s mom, a single parent, had to raise Michael while working three jobs. She did not have the time, help, or resources to immerse him in an environment where education came first. Since Michael’s mom had to work, Michael spent a lot of time by himself at home or at his elementary school day care where he lacked sufficient attention and often played football outside rather than spending time on homework, reading or writing. These habits carried into middle school and high school where he devoted much of his time to practicing and playing football rather than focusing on school as he realized football was his chance to a future.  Contrastingly, growing up in a two-parent family, my dad worked long hours, allowing my mom, a credentialed teacher,  to choose to stay at home for a while when my siblings and I were young.  She spent much time reading to me and teaching me before I even went to school, which provided a strong academic foundation. I developed a sense of the importance of education at an early age and it is a value I still carry with me today.

However, Conley emphasizes that as a child ages, the type of family structure becomes less critical and, instead, peers have a bigger influence. During teenage years, children receive more direction from outside sources or “reference groups.”  These reference groups “include the peers one surrounds him/herself with and often aid to our understanding of our place in society” (Conley 155). Michael’s main reference group is his high school football team which has strongly influenced his goal to become a professional football player. Without his football team, Michael is unsure of where he would have ended up. Football has instilled in him a sense of hope and direction for his future. He recognizes that football presents him with an opportunity that he did not see before; the possibility of going to college. In comparison, my reference groups have included people with high educational aspirations. My high school fostered a community that put a great deal of emphasis on academic success. As a result, my classmates and I were highly competitive with one another, pushing each other to excel both academically and intellectually. Consequently, I developed a hard, studious work ethic with a goal of higher learning. For me, it was not a question of whether I would go to college, but what college would best nurture my academic pursuits. For Michael, however, college largely remains an unknown. The fact that education varies so greatly for someone only a short distance away, reflects the inconsistency in access to funding, resources, and aid.

Higher education in America has become more and more difficult to obtain if one is constantly faced with obstacles out of his reach. Access to education and opportunities should not be limited simply due to inherent social and cultural structures. The effort now is to bridge the divide to higher education, provide educational opportunities to all who seek them, and to create several outlets for those circling in the repetitious cycle of poverty. To break this cycle, we must formulate a system free from bias and separate from socioeconomic factors so that everyone has a chance at equal education.  It is through our voices that we can ignite a spark of change and begin to stand up for a right to higher learning.

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