Exploring the rhetoric of social class among first-generation, low-income college students in US higher education

Williams & Martin / Higher Education Research & Development / August 2021

This qualitative, phenomenological study explored the rhetoric that low-income, first-generation college students in the United States use to describe and understand their social class and class-based experiences. The authors focused on the rhetoric associated with these descriptions given the complexity in naming and situating class-based experiences within and beyond college contexts in the United States. The authors' findings suggest that, while students readily described how their college experiences differed from their higher SES peers, many struggled to find language to describe social class in terms other than financial. Despite challenges in languaging their experiences, participants showed awareness of the functions of social class during college.