Race and Class Matters at an Elite College

Race and Class Matters at an Elite College

Race and Class Matters at an Elite College

Race and Class Matters at an Elite College

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

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 affluent? Sixty-two percent of the class was receiving no financial aid, and for those who did receive it, many of the awards were nominal. Nearly a quarter of the class were legacies—that is, sons of Amherst alumni.

Fast-forward to Sunday afternoon, August 29, 2005. Katie Fretwell, director of admissions at the college, is about to deliver her welcoming speech to the 431 entering first-year students. The faces she looks out on are strikingly different from those of 1967, and the differences go well beyond outward appearance. As Dean Fretwell describes the class to itself: “Fifty-two percent of you are women and 48% are not.… One-third of you have self-identified as students of color.… Twenty-nine of you are non-U.S. citizens. Twelve percent are first-generation college students [first in their family to go to college], and more than 47% are receiving financial aid from the college.” Further, she noted, “For almost 15% of you, English is not your first language. You speak 31 different languages in your homes (one of you can actually sing in five).” She could have added that one in eight of the students before her was a legacy, compared . . .

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