Hostile Ignorance, Class, and Same-Race Friendships: Perspectives of Working-Class College Students

Ferguson & Lareau / Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World / December 2021

two happy students reading in library

In the growing literature on upwardly mobile college students, there is evidence of students from working-class backgrounds experiencing exclusion on campus. Yet there has been insufficient attention to interactions between working-class students and their more affluent same-race friends. Drawing on 44 in-depth interviews with undergraduates from working-class backgrounds at two private universities, the authors show that Black, white, and Asian American students experience classist interactions with same-race friends characterized by what the authors term hostile ignorance. Although these interactions challenged same-race friendships for each racial group, the precise form they took was inflected by racial dynamics. Furthermore, tensions in intraracial friendships led students to withdraw socially, thereby shrinking their social networks. These findings clarify how racially homogenous social ties can provide support yet also feature class-based antagonisms. As we consider students’ sense of belonging on campus, we must be more precise about where working-class students are exposed to classism and who is responsible.