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Power and Precarity: First Generation Students Compose Digital Stories of Class Mobility

Van Galen / Social Sciences / October 2023

USD Students

bell hooks writes that to sustain myths of meritocratic educational systems, college campuses remain silent about social class differences. For poor and working-class first-generation college students, this silence means learning little about structural obstacles placed in the way of aspiring to and then succeeding in college. They commonly graduate from under-financed high schools in economically declining communities, yet internalize shame and silence as they struggle to compete with more privileged peers once on campus. Toward breaking that silence, the author facilitated digital storytelling workshops with 78 diverse first and former first-generation students across the U.S. and later interviewed them. Drawing on Bourdieu’s analysis of class as both internalized and material, the paper discusses how these storytellers made class inequalities visible in speaking of their daily lives. From an emerging collective identity, they reported a new sense of agency and voice.