Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Signifying Difference: The Nontraditional Student and the Honors Program

Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Signifying Difference: The Nontraditional Student and the Honors Program

Article excerpt

In their essay "Nontraditional Honors," Janice Rye Kinghorn and Whitney Womack Smith state that students who are "twenty-five-years of age and older are usually considered nontraditional." However, they first acknowledge that "traditional" and "nontraditional" are "constructed and slippery terms." One of the most important ways that we as faculty and staff can serve our students through an honors education is to deconstruct terms such as "traditional" and "nontraditional" in order to show the significant gaps between the signifiers and the signified and to expose the negative connotations of a construct that is defined as not being the other construct.

Honors faculty, students, directors, and staff members who enter the dialogue concerning these constructs need to ensure that the terms are not reduced to stereotypes and are not reinforced by those participating in an honors education. According to Paulo Freire, dialogue is a necessary part of an education since it helps people create a critical consciousness. For Freire, a critical consciousness is created by an in-depth understanding of the world that is fostered by exploration of social and political contradictions. once people begin the process of forming a critical consciousness, they can interrogate language use in order to create new meanings upon which future actions can be based (Education 44). Given the nature of the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) and its educational goals, nothing is more important than becoming critically conscious of social constructs that limit our ability to reach out to students.

Because the signifier "nontraditional" is defined against the signifier "traditional," I want first to look at what "traditional" signifies in an honors student. The obvious answer seems to be a student with a range of abilities who has recently matriculated from high school and who has been accepted into an honors program at the university level.

However, I wanted to see how students themselves define "traditional," so I sent a question about the definition to the honors listserv for the Southern Polytechnic State University (SPSU) University Honors Program. Nineteen students responded to the question. What I found is that most of the students who responded see the term "traditional" through the lens of what they deem typical of the college students they know. Rugaya Abaza, who was a joint-enrollment student at SPSU during her senior year of high school, indicated that traditional students attend high school for four years, graduate from high school during the year before attending college, and are full-time students. Ciara Hinds, who identified herself as a nontraditional student, added that traditional students either live on campus in a dorm or they live with their parents who live near the campus. Tim Sassone, who identified himself as a traditional student, feels that traditional students carry a full load and their primary role is being a student. Brady Powers, who also identified himself as a traditional student, finds that such students typically do not work to support themselves. He believes that traditional students rely on "parents, loans, scholarships, or any combination so long as they are not working their way through school."

I believe we could as easily answer the question of who traditional students are by looking at the cultural artifacts of an honors program. Applications, recruitment materials, documents concerned with curriculum and honors activities, and lists of benefits for students tell the story of which students are targeted for honors study. We often assume that the students targeted will bring status to the university.

One way that universities and honors programs often indicate the status of their students is through Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores or American College Test (ACT) scores as one criterion for admission. My research on the usefulness of such scores in determining success in the SPSU honors program has not shown a significant correlation between success and scores. …

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