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Reclaiming Class

Reclaiming Class: Women, Poverty, And The Promise

Vivyan C. Adair
Sandra L. Dahlberg
Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Reclaiming Class
    Book Description:

    Reclaiming Classoffers essays written by women who changed their lives through the pathway of higher education. Collected, they offer a powerful testimony of the importance of higher learning, as well as a critique of the programs designed to alleviate poverty and educational disparity. The contributors explore the ideologies of welfare and American meritocracy that promise hope and autonomy on the one hand, while also perpetuating economic obstacles and indebtedness on the other. Divided into the three sections,Reclaiming Classassesses the psychological, familial, and economic intersections of poverty and the educational process. In the first section, women who left poverty through higher education recall their negotiating the paths of college life to show how their experiences reveal the hidden paradoxes of education. Section two presents first person narratives of students whose lives are shaped by their roles as poor mothers, guardian siblings, and daughters, as well as the ways that race interacts with their poverty. Chapters exploring financial aid and welfare policy, battery and abuse, and the social constructions of the poor woman finish the book. Offering a comprehensive picture of how poor women access all levels of private and public institutions to achieve against great odds,Reclaiming Classshows the workings of higher learning from the vantage point of those most subject to the vicissitudes of policy and reform agendas.

    eISBN: 978-1-59213-841-8
    Subjects: Education, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Reclaiming Class: Women, Poverty, and the Promise of Higher Education in America
    (pp. 1-20)
    Vivyan C. Adair and Sandra L. Dahlberg

    In the fall of 1999, on a crisp, beautiful afternoon in upstate New York, a group of educators, legislators, social-service providers, and welfare activists met for a conference at Hamilton College.¹ Our goal was to discuss and enrich our understanding of the plight of welfare-recipient students in a post-welfare-reform era. One of the keynote speakers for the event was the economist Teresa Amott, whose years of research and publication had guided many of our own professional careers.² Before she shared her thoughts on poverty and welfare reform in the United States, Amott told the rapt audience a story that emanated...

  5. Speech Pathology: The Deflowering of an Accent
    (pp. 21-22)
    Laura Sullivan-Hackley

    Each schoolday was a raveling Pavlovian chain. First a flicker of naked bulb shocking us out of bed. Then Bus 64ʹs engine grinding uphill, belching sour diesel exhaust in our path like a taunt, daring us in this chase. Once aboard, we watched the neighborhoodʹs grey Etch-a-Sketch landscape scroll past our windows until it disappeared into fog behind us. We dreaded the air brake sighing that sigh of a tired old man, our cue to wade through Marlboro clouds toward the clatter and nag of homeroom bell.

    When Bus 64 screeched and coughed to a stop in front of school...

  6. I. Educators Remember

    • 1 Disciplined and Punished: Poor Women, Bodily Inscription, and Resistance through Education
      (pp. 25-52)
      Vivyan C. Adair

      In ʺTired of Playing Monopoly?ʺ (1998), Donna Langston challenges us to conceptualize class as more than a question of economic status. For Langston, class affects ʺthe way we talk, think, act, move,ʺ look, and are valued or devalued in our culture. ʺWe experience class at every level of our lives,ʺ Langston reminds us, so that even if our status changes, our class marking ʺdoes not float out in the rinse waterʺ (Langston 1998, 128). Langstonʹs cutting-edge work on class mirrors my own conviction that class (de)valuation has been indelibly written on my mind and my body in ways that can...

    • 2 Academic Constructions of ʺWhite Trash,ʺ or How to Insult Poor People without Really Trying
      (pp. 53-66)
      Nell Sullivan

      The Modern Language Association (MLA) istheprofessional organization of English and foreign-language professors in the United States and Canada, and in recent years it has been increasingly aligned with liberal causes such as labor issues and affirmative action. At the 1995 meeting of the MLA, I attended a panel focusing on the varying depictions of white identity in popular culture. Earlier that year, I had completed my dissertation on representations of African American subjectivity in the American novel, and I was eager to hear papers on a topic I felt to be intimately connected with my dissertation and, perhaps...

    • 3 Survival in a Not So Brave New World
      (pp. 67-84)
      Sandra L. Dahlberg

      At the end of ShakespeareʹsThe Tempest, the character of Miranda, astounded by the thought of a vigorously populated world completely antithetical to her secluded island, exclaims, ʺOh, brave new world that has such people inʹt.ʺ The cynical Prospero, her father, responds that it ʺis new to thee,ʺ although he readies himself for travel to his former dukedom where he will resume his position of power, wealth, and learning (Shakespeare 1974 [1611], 5.1.183–84). The remaining island inhabitants, the characters of Ariel and Caliban, do not fare so well. Ariel is ʺfreed,ʺ but no mention is given as to the...

    • 4 To Be Young, Pregnant, and Black: My Life as a Welfare Coed
      (pp. 85-96)
      Joycelyn K. Moody

      I was on welfare during the winter that Alex Haleyʹs miniseries Roots first aired on television. I watchedRootsevery night of its duration in the subterranean TV room of my college dorm. For eight consecutive nights, two or three other women who also did not have television sets in their rooms watched the show in the basement with me. They were not the same few women each night, but all of them were white and, as I recall, strangers to me. Like them, I was a student at our small, private, Southern, Roman Catholic college that was exclusive in...

    • 5 If You Want Me to Pull Myself Up, Give Me Bootstraps
      (pp. 97-110)
      Lisa K. Waldner

      At a 1999 state capital demonstration in favor of higher spending on university financial aid, a group of students called on Minnesotaʹs Governor Jesse Ventura to do more for more single-parent college students. Governor Ventura was less than enthusiastic, retorting, ʺIs that the governmentʹs job—to make up for your mistakes?ʺ (Healy 1999). As I read these words in theChronicle of Higher Education, I was metaphorically slapped back fifteen years to my days as a single-parent student and welfare recipient. Although it has been a long time since I have cashed an assistance check, I feel the welfare-stigma sting...

  7. II. On the Front Lines

    • 6 If I Survive, It Will Be Despite Welfare Reform: Reflections of a Former Welfare Student
      (pp. 113-118)
      Tonya Mitchell

      In 1993, I found myself to be everything that America loves to hate and blame for its ills: I was young, black, pregnant and unwed, and poor. Yet for some strange reason, I had not felt—and, as a result, did not at the time recognize—the vehemence with which I would be judged as a social pariah, as an outcast, as a Welfare Queen. My mother had raised my brothers and sisters and I with very little money, yet we had come from a loving, clean, and stable home. My father drank away any money we ever had and...

    • 7 Not By Myself Alone: Upward Bound with Family and Friends
      (pp. 119-130)
      Deborah Megivern

      One week before Christmas when I was ten years old, my younger brother and I stepped off the school bus to find two police cars parked at the base of our familyʹs long driveway. Our family lived on a farm outside a small Iowa town, where everyone knew the police officers by name. One of the officers I knew from school stepped from behind his car and greeted me. He introduced me to the unfamiliar policeman, told me not to worry, and explained that my brother and I were to go away to a neighboring city. This would be the...

    • 8 Choosing the Lesser Evil: The Violence of the Welfare Stereotype
      (pp. 131-138)
      Andrea S. Harris

      I was not born into poverty. In some sense, it might be accurate to say that I was born into a middle-class black family. My father worked at a naval base, and my mother was an accountant. I am the middle child, with a sister before and a brother after me. We had a nice family home, a huge backyard with pear trees, a patio with a built-in grill, Sunday dinners, and family vacations. On the surface, we were a happy, middle-class black family, until I was eleven and my parents finally separated. My father was extremely abusive. I vividly...

    • 9 From Welfare to Academe: Welfare Reform as College-Educated Welfare Mothers Know It
      (pp. 139-156)
      Sandy Smith Madsen

      I was on the National Deanʹs List. I was listed inWhoʹs Who among Students in American Universities and Colleges. I was investigated. I was spied on. A welfare investigator came into my home and, after thoughtful deliberation, granted me permission to keep my belongings. Afterward, I began receiving hate mail from the neighbors she had queried. They thought the hours I kept were odd; perhaps I was selling drugs. One anonymous letter writer suggested in explicitly pornographic terms that there was one occupation for which I was qualified. Like the witch hunts of old, if a neighbor reports you...

    • 10 Seven Years in Exile
      (pp. 157-166)
      Leticia Almanza

      ʺA siren sound awakes the deadʺ echoed through the room. I had just finished the reading of my poetry at the university, and I had carefully selected this ending to my reading. The echo lured me like Odysseus into a juxtaposition with todayʹs siren sound, alerting me of danger. It is a danger in our society to come out and expose your Otherness. It is a danger to rub against the grain. I am a Mexican American woman who was raised in intergenerational poverty. All my life I have lived under systems of oppression that have stifled me, that have...

  8. III. Policy, Research, and Poor Women

    • 11 Families First—but Not in Higher Education: Poor, Independent Students and the Impact of Financial Aid
      (pp. 169-195)
      Sandra L. Dahlberg

      Financial aid, once the promise of affordable access, is quickly becoming the welfare of higher education. I am a professor at a public, open-admission university at which the majority of students are first-generation college students from poor and working-class backgrounds, two-thirds of whom are non-white, and more than 53 percent of whom are independent. For the past three years, I have worked with the universityʹs financial-aid department as a member of various scholarship committees. For four years, I served on the Financial Aid Advisory Committee at a large, public research institution, while at the same time, as a poor single...

    • 12 The Leper Keepers: Front-Line Workers and the Key to Education for Poor Women
      (pp. 196-214)
      Judith Owens-Manley

      The events in the lives of poor women that shape their paths and destinies are significant, but equally important are the social contexts that affect their lives, including their interactions with the public welfare system. The reform of welfare brought about by the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) has been described at length elsewhere in this book. PRWORA replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) with Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF); it also affected benefits to legal immigrants, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for disabled children, the food-stamp program, child support,...

    • 13 ʺThatʹs Why Iʹm on Prozacʺ: Battered Women, Traumatic Stress, and Education in the Context of Welfare Reform
      (pp. 215-239)
      Lisa D. Brush

      This chapter explores the connections among poverty, education, and battering in the context of welfare reform. Welfare is generally the last refuge of mothers unable to make ends meet (Edin and Lein 1997). Cash assistance; food stamps; subsidies for child care, housing, and transportation; and health-care coverage can enable women of all social classes to escape battering. That is, welfare provides women with an alternative to physical violence and economic and emotional abuse by people they have loved and trusted (their current and former husbands and boyfriends, for instance). Welfare benefits mean that battered women can try to escape abusers,...

    • 14 Fulfilling the Promise of Higher Education
      (pp. 240-266)
      Vivyan C. Adair

      I grew up amid poverty, violence, and despair. Even though my young mother, the single parent of four, dedicated her life to bringing order, grace, and dignity to our lives, my siblings and I were often touched by hunger, lack of medical and dental attention, and fear. Growing up, I had little reason to believe that my life would be any different. And indeed, unable to acquire an education and without a sense of worth, I eventually had a child and became involved with a man who violated and abused me, leaving me hurt, frustrated, despondent, and profoundly impoverished.


  9. About the Contributors
    (pp. 267-269)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 270-270)