‘Paradox of the Privileged Poor’: Professor Anthony Jack Discusses Financial Aid

While financial aid programs allow students of different backgrounds to receive the same educational experiences, they pose many issues, according to Anthony Jack, Assistant Professor of Education at Harvard University, who spoke about the “Paradox of the Privileged Poor.”

Jack led an hour-long discussion in Kemper Auditorium on November 6. The event was coordinated by LaShawn Springer, Associate Director of College Counseling.

Jack explained how collegiate student bodies are not reflective of the actual population. Although colleges are making more of an effort to admit students of lower income backgrounds into their campuses, there still remains a disbalance of social class representation, said Jack in his presentation.

“Selective colleges serve as mobility springboards for those who come from disadvantageous backgrounds. And higher you up the income distribution, the more inequality you find. 38 colleges in the United States have more students from the top one percent [of income], than the bottom 60 percent. Those poor families were once kept out from this privilege of education due to a continued cycle. We were excluded from the information about these institutions,” said Jack in his presentation.

The overall lack of socioeconomic diversity contributes to a culture that only caters to a certain tier of people. Jack related this idea to his own experience in college.

“My new peers swapped stories of multi-week trips abroad and fancy parties happening at second homes. They even spoke about private jets. On the other hand, my family trips consisted of visiting a cousin’s house nearby. I realized I was the only poor black person at Amherst [College], others being sons of lawyers and businessmen,” said Jack.

As a full financial aid student in college, Springer said she felt that she could relate to a number of Jack’s points.

“I was operating in what sometimes felt like a different world than many of my peers. I remember encounters with my financial aid office and how I sometimes left feeling really small on those occasions that I tried to advocate for myself,” wrote Springer in an email to The Phillipian.

Springer continued, “When he talked about going to career services and open office hours and taking advantage of the resources on these campuses, and interacting with faculty, I realized I was late to so much of that. I showed up in some of these spaces in my junior year but my peers from affluent backgrounds were taking advantage of everything as freshman.”

During his time at Amherst and in his field of work, Jack observed a category of people whom he described as the “privileged poor.” This subgroup refers to students who originally come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds but have received a higher level high school education before coming to college and university.

Jack explored the “privileged poor” by highlighting differences between their experiences and the experiences of students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who went to college directly from local, usually urban, high schools.

“Our understanding of how poverty and equality, class and culture shape the college of life of the students because of the policies we implement to help students simply miss the mark. The privileged poor have different high school experiences thus have different access to what sociologists call dominant culture capital. The term has been defined and used in different ways in many times. But we define the term as something that is taken for granted ways of being that are valued in a particular content,” said Jack.

Jack researched the policies and protocols currently in place for accommodating students from “economically distressed” backgrounds and compared their effectiveness. Jack used food as an example, explaining how the “institutional oversight brings hunger and pain” during scheduled breaks such as Thanksgiving, spring recesses, and other holidays.

“Only one in five [colleges] keep their dining hall open during spring break. Let us not think it is only a problem of handful of schools; this is a national problem. In 2016, we saw that one in five first generation college students report that they have find trouble finding food once or even to three times a week. At California State University one in five students face the same issue everyday in every week in every month,” said Jack.

Springer emphasized Jack’s distinguishment of access from inclusion. According to Springer, if a school is truly invested in a student and their well being, it can’t be only when school is in session.

“It is tremendous that some of these schools have financial aid policies and budgets that make it possible for students from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds to attend schools that otherwise are financially unattainable but he’s absolutely right that that’s not where the work ends, that’s where it starts,” wrote Springer.

In seeking to gain better awareness, Jack says he believes that faculty and administration need to learn how to deal with various financial scenarios.

“When financial aid students earn admission to [selective] schools, we have to be ready for situations in which they have to deal with in comparison unlike most other peers. We have to be able to help somebody through something called normal transition, the loss of grandparents, divorce – not that we want those things to happen but when life goes forward those things do happen,” said Jack.

“Do we know how to help someone when a family member is suddenly lost to a drive by shooting because of gang violence? These are new questions that we have to grapple with,” said Jack.

Harry Shin ’20 said he found Jack’s talk to be relatable to the Andover experience. According to Shin, Andover tries to promote diversity on campus and include certain training programs to try to be better prepared for it.

“A particularly interesting point would be how he argued that we should try to build upon the infrastructure and further support financial aid students to integrate better. They should have a whole academic experience,” said Shin.

“I can relate to this as a prefect at Rockwell House. During leadership training, we learned that some students are not always able to enjoy the same privileges that others do, especially involving money. There needs to be more awareness in general,” Shin added.

According to Jack, lower income students usually have less in common with adults on campus compared to the majority of their peers, which causes them to struggle to find help. Thus, in order to foster a welcoming, supportive community, Jack emphasized the importance of increased communication and connection between faculty and students.

“Knowing how to navigate social relationships with faculties is not the only hurdle first generation college students and low income students face. There are things that no amount of cultural capital can help you come back from. Their economic disadvantage is more salient than their shape sense of belonging. For that matter, it drives them to be more emotionally ill,” said Jack.

Jack says he believes that if schools improve their procedures on diversity and provide both immediate and long term accommodations, then they can create a more supportive environment for disadvantaged students. He explained that admitting students does not necessarily mean including them, which is why changes in certain procedures must take place.

“I’m talking about those generational dreams that my grandparents could not always put into words but held onto in their hearts,” said Jack.

Editor’s Note: Harry Shin is a Digital Associate for The Phillipian.