Notes on:  Locke, L., Trolian, T. (2018)  Microaggressions and Social Class Identity in Higher Education and Student Affairs New Directions for Student Services. 162. DOI: 10.1002/ss.20262

Dave Harris

[Rather preliminary but a welcome addition. For much more substance see, for example Sennett, R & Cobb, J. (1993)   The Hidden Injuries of Class. London: Norton and Co., Reprint Series, and Plummer, G. (2000)  Failing Working Class Girls. London: Trentham Books]

There have been considerable support and outreach programs for students from low SES backgrounds but so far with relatively low increases in degree attainment. Micro-aggressions 'may be partly to blame.' (63) We know that colleges and universities [in the USA] are 'normed and racialised spaces (i.e. white and middle-class)' but they are and will become increasingly diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, social class and others. Social class norms can be obstacles.

Micro-aggressions are defined by Jimenez-Castellanos and Gonzalez as brief exchanges sending denigrating messages, subtle in nature, and acted automatically and unconsciously, Sue agrees and suggests three distinct forms. They have an impact. A student of colour can have impact based on race and class. They can exist at institutional and policy level as well, and are found on campuses.

The concept of class in the USA is difficult because of the American dream, but it can be revealed through unequal funding access to resources opportunities for learning, unequally qualified instructors, access to social educational capital and other ways. Research shows that SES is a factor in educational achievement and advancement [references page 66]. Ambitions are the same but there are particular hurdles found at both institutional and interpersonal levels. Classes exists and it 'perpetuates the deprivation and low status of poor people… [through] prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination"' [citing Smith and Redington]. Class issues tend to be avoided in discussions of reform of educational settings.

'Educational institutions have "historically legitimated the cultural and social capital of the middle classes while devaluing and delegitimising the capitals of the poor and working classes" (van Galen 2004)', so opportunities are theoretically available yet systematically denied on the basis of class. Social capital and necessary networks are particularly important, including information about internships or job opportunities for influential individuals. So is money and social and economic risk.

The norms of colleges and universities are unfamiliar, they are 'not only gendered and racialised but also classed' (67), still based on the interest in educational needs and desires of the wealthy, which have 'seeped into the very structure of the institution through policies and practices that include some and simultaneously exclude others', so working class people may feel like outsiders and feel they don't belong.

Class is an important dimension of identity and rejection may be marginalising. Some have experienced 'institutional shaming' (68). Others may just not have the opportunities to build on valued types of capital including navigational capital. They may feel they have to 'disconnect from their class identity'.

They may experience classist micro-aggressions — not wearing the right clothes attending the right events, not having the right letters of recommendations, not using the right terms of languages, parents or family members not with the right jobs and so on. They might face stereotypes the threat of them, overt discrimination and covert forms as well. 'Many student groups continue to feel unwelcome on college campuses' (69) including low income students. There may be no '"college narrative" at home, no one who can give advice or provide resources. They may need to be employed during college and costs might be significant, including taking on loans, and not being able to participate in extracurricular activities, even exposing family income. They may experience a form of battle fatigue.

[Pretty light on actual examples then, no counter narratives]

There are implications for student affairs professionals, including becoming aware of their own values and biases and assumptions, including how they interact. The should be aware of sending subtle messages that low SES students do not belong. This will educate other students about micro-aggressions and encourage students to speak out. We should examine campus climates. We should use 'micro-progressions' to counter micro-aggressions — '"more regular and common acts or experiences that serve to challenge and/or dismantle bias, stereotypes, and discrimination as well as oppression' (71) -- for example they might share "'college knowledge"' [like my very wonderful study skills book], include the voices of working class families.

We have to do this as campuses become increasingly diverse while otherwise we will risk 'a severe decline in human capital and competitiveness of the future nation' (72)