Politics of Work, Socioeconomics, and Classism in Classrooms:

Education to Work to Live or Live to Work?

Doreen MohammedI am a first-generation American whose parents immigrated from Dhaka, Bangladesh, so I could make it big – so I would never have worry for my survival as they had and still have to, and to be able to take my life for granted as most to none of my ancestors ever got to. Thus, I feel conflicted about the mythology of the American dream as a function of capitalism and classism.

First-generation and/or low-income college students tend to experience this perpetual dilemma and identity crisis, particularly at such elite institutions and spaces like Ivy League and other comparable schools. This is further exacerbated by race for folks of color, since race and class are inherently linked historically in America, of all places.

Playing by the Rules

We play by the rules of the American-dream narrative that we can uplift ourselves, our families, our friends, our communities, and even our ancestral groups if we work hard within the systems of education and higher education. We do everything right, and by the rules, only to find ourselves less stable, secure, or well off in our pursuit of socioeconomic mobility and prosperity than most of our elite peers.

We still do not get to take our lives for granted and not worry about our individual and collective survivals. Our elite peers, as college dropouts, end up better off than we are as college graduates. And that is if they even bother with college to begin with.

We do not get to truly or completely escape poverty and classism by just playing by the rules, if ever. We feel compelled to perpetuate and embody classism, even when it does not benefit us and is not even meant for us. We pretend (if lucky enough) to live to work once we are in elite spaces like college when, to a certain extent, we still need to work to live.

Finding Ways to Thrive

The trauma and internal conflict, exacerbated in elite institutions and spaces like higher education, take an adverse toll on first-generation low-income folks, whether a person of color or not. That is why organizations like Stanford First-Generation Low-Income Student Partnership, Columbia First-Generation Low-Income Student Partnership, and FLIP National were found, exist and need to thrive. They provide resources for healing, survival, and upliftment that enable first-generation and/or low-income students in higher education to make the most of their sacrifices, hard work, dedication and determination.

The current system and status quo has been and is failing us: Most of us end up either transferring, dropping out or graduating with no to little career prospects for the prosperity for which we sacrificed so much to go to college.

We deserve better. Enough with the nonsense that we should just be thankful to be allowed to be in elite higher educational spaces, further explained in this piece I wrote for The Tab Columbia recently here. That piece was inspired by my first piece for The Tab Columbia on my frustrations of folks like us being fetishized and only permitted to be at the table due to all the adversity we had to overcome instead of inherently just deserving to be there like anyone else, titled “Stop Fetishizing Minority Students As Superhuman Poverty Survivors,” also picked up by and featured in The Huffington Post here.


Note: Both of these pieces for The The Tab Columbia are for the “Voices of Color” series, so I wrote them through a racial lens rather than a class one. But as I mentioned above, race and class have always been linked in America. I also believe that individuals who are not necessarily people of color can still identify with and relate to the issues and points I discussed in those articles as well. Looking forward to hearing all of your thoughts and perspectives!

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