Elon concludes first-generation college celebration with special guest speaker

Anthony Abraham Jack, author of “The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges are Failing Disadvantaged Students,” joined the Elon community for a virtual discussion about obstacles facing first-generation college students nationwide.

Members of the Elon community gathered on Tuesday for a virtual fireside chat about first-generation college students, the struggles they face and the support systems that can help them find success on their journey to graduation.

Students, faculty and staff tuned in for a live virtual discussion with Anthony Abraham Jack, assistant professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of the award-winning book “The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges are Failing Disadvantaged Students.” The discussion touched on several issues facing first-generation college students at Elon and across the nation.

The live virtual discussion was moderated by Assistant Director of First-Generation Student Support Services Oscar Miranda and Vice President for Student Life Jon Dooley. A recording of the fireside chat can be viewed by anyone with Elon log-in information here.

Anthony Abraham Jack, assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Much of Tuesday’s conversation focused on the first-generation college student identity and understanding the many paths first-generation students take to get to college. Jack said institutions of higher education must find ways to focus on diversity among those students without creating division.

“The thing that I want colleges to do – and this is incredibly important – is how do you celebrate diversity without highlighting difference,” he said. “Because a lot of times, what you actually do is you end up drawing boundaries between groups as compared to saying ‘hey, look at how we all make up the whole.’”

Jack also discussed the research that went into “The Privileged Poor,” which was awarded the Mirra Komarovsky Book Award, CEP Mildred Garcia Award for Exemplary Scholarship, and the Thomas J. Wilson Memorial Prize and was named a finalist for the C. Wright Mills Award and an NPR Book’s Best Book of 2019. He explained the book stems from his personal experiences as a first-generation college student and uses student stories to change the narrative of what it means to be a first-generation or low-income college student.

In the discussion, Jack also called on colleges and universities to offer more support and pay closer attention to first-generation and low-income college students to help them succeed in the classroom and on campus.

“We also must know that if we are going to educate more of the world, and not just the top one percent, we can’t just keep teaching to the top one percent and then expect everyone else to just learn from osmosis,” Jack said. “That’s not how education works.”

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Tuesday’s virtual conversation was part of a series of events at Elon celebrating first-generation college students in conjunction with the Nov. 8 National First-Generation College Day. Elon’s First-Generation Student Support Services, one of four access initiatives in the Center for Access and Success, hosted several events over a four-day period to spotlight the university’s first-generation student population. The event series included the inaugural First-Generation College Awards Gala, a social media campaign, a panel discussion featuring Elon first-generation students, and Jack’s fireside chat on Tuesday.

During the lecture, Jack took questions from the audience about managing life on campus as a first-generation college student and the struggles of being the first in one’s family to attend college. While acknowledging those struggles, he asked students to keep in mind one important piece of advice when navigating college life.

“Never, ever be afraid to ask for help,” Jack said. “I can’t say it enough, help-seeking is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength. Help-seeking is you being smart enough that you are approaching the boundaries of your own understanding, but you are wise enough to enlist the help of someone who can light the path or invite others on it with you because you recognize that the path is better traveled together with others than alone.”

For more information about support systems for Elon’s first-generation college students, visit the First-Generation Student Support Services website here.