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Race and Class Matters at an Elite College

Elizabeth Aries

Publication Year: 2008

In Race and Class Matters at an Elite College, Elizabeth Aries provides a rare glimpse into the challenges faced by black and white college students from widely different class backgrounds as they come to live together as freshmen. Based on an intensive study Aries conducted with 58 students at Amherst College during the 2005-2006 academic year, this book offers a uniquely personal look at the day-to-day thoughts and feelings of students as they experience racial and economic diversity firsthand, some for the first time.

Through online questionnaires and face-to-face interviews, Aries followed four groups of students throughout their first year of college: affluent whites, affluent blacks, less financially advantaged whites from families with more limited education, and less financially advantaged blacks from the same background. Drawing heavily on the voices of these freshmen, Aries chronicles what they learned from racial and class diversity—and what colleges might do to help their students learn more.

Published by: Temple University Press


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pp. 8-11

I want to thank the many people who inspired, encouraged, and contributed to this work. Several years ago, as my interest in understanding the psychological implications of social class grew, I turned to a sociologist and long- time friend, Maynard Seider, for suggestions ...

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1 Becoming a More Diverse College: Challenges and Benefits

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pp. 1-12

If I had stood before the entering freshman class at Amherst College in the fall of 1967 (the first year for which data on race are available), almost all the 304 male faces looking up at me would have been white and affluent. How white? All but 12. There were no Puerto Ricans, no Chicanos. There was one Asian American student. Seven of the students were from abroad, including two from Canada. How ...

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2 Investigating Race and Class Matters on Campus

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pp. 13-24

In the fall of 2005, I invited four groups of entering first-year students at Amherst to share with me their experiences with diversity over their first year of college. As described in the previous chapter, these four groups included students who were either: (1) affl uent white, (2) affl uent black, (3) white with high financial ...

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3 First Encounters with Race and Class

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pp. 25-43

Students came to campus with differing experiences, attitudes, hopes, and fears based on their race and class backgrounds. Students who were black, lower- income, or both were joining a predominantly white affluent community and had different concerns from affluent ...

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4 Negotiating Class Differences

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pp. 44-63

Students came to campus from very different places on the class spectrum, and, as a consequence, faced different challenges in living and interacting on a daily basis. How did students, both affluent and lower- income, view their position on that spectrum and make sense of the differing privileges or obstacles they had faced in getting to this ...

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5 Relationships across Race and Class

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pp. 64-86

Students at the college have the opportunity in the dorms, in extra-curricular activities, and at social events, to get to know students from a broad range of races and class backgrounds. But do they? Are students able to overcome apprehensions they might have about how to act with members of another race or social class, anxieties ...

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6 Learning from Racial Diversity

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pp. 87-108

The college offered optimal conditions for students’ racial ste reo types to be challenged and replaced by more accurate views of members of other races, for students’ racial understanding to be broadened and deepened. But did such learning actually occur? The majority of blacks had gotten to know two or more whites well, and the majority of whites had gotten to know two or more ...

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7 Learning from Class- Based Diversity

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pp. 109-130

Students entered college with different levels of prior exposure to class differences. “Social class wasn’t really something I thought about for the most part. . . . All my friends growing up were on the same level as me,” said Nicole, a lower- income white, and she was not alone. Many students came to campus having given little thought ...

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8 Negotiating Racial Issues

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pp. 131-153

Black students had to navigate social relationships both with other blacks on campus and with whites, and each group posed different challenges. Blacks in this study did not all defi ne and present themselves in the same way. Their identities differed because of such factors as social class, the degree of centrality ...

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9 As the Year Ended

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pp. 154-168

As the academic year drew to a close, students in the study were asked to reflect on how the year had gone for them academically and socially. How had they fared academically, and did they think race and class had an influence on their academic ...

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10 Meeting the Challenges of Diversity

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pp. 169-184

Like many elite colleges and universities, Amherst is going to great lengths and expense to identify and attract to campus talented students who are not affluent and white. Its efforts are directed at offering opportunities for social and economic mobility to these students, at providing some measure of social ...

Appendix A. On-Line Survey Measures

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pp. 185-188

Appendix B. Interview Questions

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pp. 189-192


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pp. 193-218


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pp. 219-230

Index and About the Author

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pp. 231-235

E-ISBN-13: 9781592137275
Print-ISBN-13: 9781592137268

Publication Year: 2008