Tips on navigating the nuances of social class in higher education and post graduation.
Before I get started let’s have a quick sociology lesson. Whether you’re just now learning about it or it’s a refresher these are the key terms in the story i’m about to tell. For the record I’m no expert at any of the information below it’s based off of life experience and quick research.
Social Class (working, middle, upper) is a social construct. It’s a learned identity.
Social Status is dependent on the amount of education and prestige of your occupation.
How can you go about changing your class? by enhancing your…
Social Capital: How many people you know, and who know’s you
Cultural Capital: Getting to know the ways of the class you’d like to get into
Economic Capital: Increasing the money you earn
Social Mobility is the rate in which you’re able to switch classes Absolute Mobility is when you would eventually reach above your parents class/status.
When I refer to being Black I’m contrasting it with the culture of a PWI (Predominately White Institution) and how I stood out in instances and was possibly stereotyped for the culture in which I was raised.
I plan to address three things:
- The importance of establishing connections and meaningful relationships and figuring out how to get over the “feeling misunderstood” hump.
- The lack of guidance because of social class and need for mentorship
- And Answering this question: Am I Destined to remain in the social class I was raised?
I was raised with contrasting social classes. a portion of my life was spent being poor and living in housing projects. the latter portion was spent in a suburb living a middle class lifestyle (I had my own car and didn’t have to work to help my family get by) These two lifestyles allowed me to be able to adopt and relate to two different cultural identities.
Graduating high school I was on top of the world. 4/5 College Acceptance letters, Honors and services awards and scholarships out the wazoo and a prom date to top it off. I had plans to go to my dream school, Syracuse University to study Design and Architecture. I had large ambitions that I just couldn’t see not coming to fruition. I thought the world was my oyster.
Aside from reaching my goals to become a designer, I chose to go to college, a prestigious university 1,000 miles away to reach a higher social status/class upon graduation. It is assumed that by graduating college it is a given to obtain a well paying job and be well on your way to achieving the “American Dream”. This day and age. That is obviously not the case.
Fast forward to my first few years of college. A few things hit me like a brick:
They tell you about culture shock, but it doesn’t become real until you’re only 1 of 6 Black kids in the marching band of 100+ and we all come from completely different parts of the country…and can’t relate to each other…at all. you’re left clinging on to any friendly person that comes your way in search of what I like to call “freshman friendpanionship”. the friends you make right away freshman year to feel less alone in an unfamiliar environment.
Close friendships were so important to me in college yet so hard to come by. I really didn’t think there were so many different kinds of people in the world and I had no idea how hard it was to make friends or relate to strangers on a deep enough level to become real friends. I’m not kidding when I say out of the 6 (yes 6. due to lack of support/guidance it took me longer to obtain my degree. a story for another day) years of college I can count on one hand how many meaningful relationships I had. Being able to relate played a huge rule in building friendships in college. None of us knew how each other grew up. didn’t know what schools we went to, what the neighborhoods were like, who they hung out with…none of that so we were forced to depend on first impressions, small talk and the little we knew about the person’s current life to determine if we could be friends with someone. I’ll be honest here. I often times felt judged for being Black, or “accidentally” letting my “Blackness” come out. (someone called me ghetto once. Mind you, I was often times called a white girl in high school! talk about conflicting learned social identities!). Or If I somehow found a group of people to hang with that came from a more well off family I’d be judged for paying too much attention to how much i’m spending during a group trip to the mall. On the other end if I found some people I could relate more to socially they would sneer at me for spending $100 on a pair of shoes. I felt like I couldn’t win!
I was in search of friends and experiences failing to realize I should’ve paid A LOT more attention and time to acquiring more social, economic and cultural capital to work towards securing a spot on the gravy train upon graduation. upper class students don’t have to worry about this as much 1. because they already have the money. Their parent’s have the social capital. and because they grew up being upper class they have the cultural class to find even more friends that will help sustain their place.
I had to play this relation roulette game with my teachers as well. I would get scolded and put down for the littlest of things. Not much encouragement. I was used to a different breed of teacher. “Sucking up” was a foreign term that I couldn’t grasp or condone in myself. I was never the teachers pet. I think my grades suffered because of it and this made it hard to find adequate mentorship. The professionals of color I found in college that I could relate to often times fled and ventured off to what I believe to be their own journey in reaching social status fulfillment.
During my sophomore year of college my father faced health problems and a drastic career change which pushed us back into the working class and close to the poverty line. Being in college kept me afloat as my family struggled to stay above water. As a college student I had reached a rate of absolute mobility (am i saying that right?) I was making more than my parents. I also found out (during my junior year in college) that I was a first generation student and all this time didn’t even know it. All my life my father had told me he had gone to college for business, but he told me that only to keep me motivated to attend college myself. I’m thankful for him, but to this day I think about all those first generation scholarships I could’ve had and support groups I could’ve been a part of to make my whole college process so much easier.
“In the United States, social immobility is a way of life, especially for the very rich and the very poor. Brookings Institution economist Isabel Sawhill estimates that 40 percent of children born into the topmost or bottom income quintile won’t budge as adults from where they began. Katharine Bradbury, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, agrees. “Most of the long-term poor are stuck at the bottom; most of the long-term rich have a strong grip on the top; and each of these two groups is somewhat more entrenched than the corresponding groups 20 years earlier,” she concluded in a research paper last spring.
But this declining mobility also applies to Americans born into the vast middle class. Even they were less likely to bounce up or down in income during the past 10 years than in earlier decades, Bradbury found. By her calculations, Americans in the highest and lowest quintiles of income are far more likely to stay at the same level over a decade than are people in the three middle quintiles. But lately, members of the middle class have also been getting stuck”
According to The Atlantic, in order to avoid falling from the middle class into poverty, there’s only one route, graduate from college.
Ok. Did that. My social class growing up and the things I was ignorant to butted heads with the culture I seek to move into. Then I also realized…. I’ve also chose to pursue a creative career. According to Artsy.com (see links below) Creative Careers are for people who are already rich and with resources. Are the odds really against me this much?
“I grew up poor, and I never want to be poor again, even if that means not working in the art world because there isn’t a stable enough position.” — Naiomy Guerrero, 26
Unlike some of her peers, Guerrero wasn’t able to fall back on a crucial resource: help from Mom and Dad. A recent report in the New York Times showed 22-, 23-, and 24-year-olds aspiring to work art and design are the most likely to receive financial assistance from their parents, with 53% reporting some help, compared with 40% of twenty-somethings overall. They also received the most money, an average of $3,600 a year, compared with an average of $3,000 for their peers in other fields.
it’s hardly headline news that creative fields aren’t the most lucrative, the finding highlights the largely invisible role of class in the art world, at a time when efforts around gender and racial inclusion have become increasingly commonplace. It also points to some of the challenges in bringing economic diversity to a liberal-leaning industry that values humanism and resourcefulness, but also relies on the ability to engage and feel comfortable with deep-pocketed collectors.
It also highlights how, in some ways, the art world plays by its own economic rules”
I’m going to sum it up with this. I can do two things. Keep pushing to achieve that goal or take that step in veering to the right in search of an easier route until my goal is more attainable. The latter is when people tend to have regrets about not pursuing their “dream”. I could also take the route of finding a man lol who makes more than me and will help me in my time of career exploration so I won’t have to live on the street…But co-dependency isn't something I see in my future. At the end of the day it’s about resources (people, knowledge, ways towards access). If you don’t have them. Get them. By any means necessary and that’s what I’m doing to maintain hope and determination to achieve my current goal: Establishing fiscal stability (in which I’m able to pay bills/save/ with a little to spend) by doing something I’m good at (community oriented, design based, marketing, managerial, planning).
If nothing else, I have a little time to teach myself how to get my social/cultural capital up and everything else will follow. Any other advice (or job offers) is greatly appreciated.
Wish Me Luck.
college is the bike. The knowledge to manuever and get through it with skill are the pedals.
Kimberly Rashad is a social equity and empathy motivated designer. Her design style focuses mostly on intentionality. When she’s not working with individuals, businesses and nonprofits around
the country she’s either hosting events for her local Alumni Chapter (SU ‘16) or cooking up something good in her apartment in Atlanta, GA. Connect with her on Instagram and LinkedIn.