I’ve gotten myself involved with helping first generation college students with this program we call Panther Partners. Basically I mentor and provide support for a student who is the first person in their family to go to college. I’m technically second generation myself, but as the only one of six children to finish high school I kind of know what they are going through. College success isn’t about intelligence or what some like to call “grit.” It’s more about feeling that it’s a good fit for yourself based on something you cannot quite articulate. It’s about seeing a reasonable trajectory for yourself that makes sense to you at the time.
Sometimes I think we abuse social science and the tools of academic assessment and management to the harm of students because we set up pseudo-scientific measures about suitability and preparation that are really much more about class, social standing and our own views about institutional prestige than what the actual needs of the students are. I think this is particularly true in how we abuse subjects like mathematics and high-fail courses like speech and chemistry to essentially weed out students. Students don’t do well because they are smart, work hard or are prepared. They do well because they fit into our own perverse standards built around artificial scarcity and class. We get the students and graduates that society wants, not the one the student needs.
Success is about knowing you belong, that your choices are valid and that you see yourself in a better future where you are valued. Not about anything else.