Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Chances are

Listened today to a "webinar" on first generation college students (FGS), presented by the authors of a new book on the subject. FGS are an "invisible minority" who arrive in colleges and universities without the "cultural capital" of other students. They are less likely than other students to participate in extra-curricular activities or to avail themselves of the advice and resources offered to help students succeed. And if they are having problems, they are less likely to tell their advisers about them. So, the webinards argued, it is incumbent on advisers and faculty to get to know who their students are, teach them "help-seeking skills" and learn about their particular needs and hopes. Institutions might also consider various mentoring and learning community models, involving older FGS students, faculty and staff.

I was struck by this phrase, on one of the slides: Do not assume successful assimilation, and don't leave serendipity to chance. The former I get (though I know I could do it better), but the latter seems silly. Until you think about it. A big part of what we advocates of the liberal arts and of student-directed learning celebrate is serendipity - one aspect of the freedom in "liberal" arts - and it's certainly true that we try to establish a learning environment in which it can happen in various ways. But I hadn't thought about it in terms of privilege, or in connection with the culture shift demanded of FGS...

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