Is College Worth It: Race, Class, and Oppression in Education

I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, a place filled with rich cultural diversity. Along with the diversity comes the separation of classes: the wealthy and middle classes live in the outskirts of the valley while the working class lives in the mid-valley areas. The mid-valley is a community that is predominately composed of Hispanics and other immigrant communities striving to build a better future for their families and it was here where I became aware of the additional discrepancies within education that underrepresented populations face.

I was born into a working class, immigrant, and Spanish speaking home and since early grade school, I have been singled out from the majority. When I was in third grade I was placed into English as a Second Language classes that unconsciously defined my trajectory as a college student. At such a young age I did not make any sense of the segregation, however this placement unconsciously began to shape my mind to think that I was not capable of obtaining the same academic achievement as others. Not only has this mentality affected me but it has become a universal issue in the education system that has affected millions of first-generation students in underrepresented communities, thus inhibiting students of color pursuing higher education.

According to Larson (1990), “class is your understanding of the work where you fit in, it is composed of the ideas, behavior, attitudes, values, and language….class is the schools you attend, the education you attain, the very jobs you will work at throughout your whole life. class is the very jobs you will work at throughout your whole life.” (p.398). Throughout my education, my class status as a first generation Mexican American has been reinforced my whole life. Throughout grade school I received a mediocre education, in the community where I lived, and the limited exposure to college. As a first generation student with an attached stigma, I faced countless challenges throughout my education.

I understood that pursuing a higher education was the key out of poverty but the constant fear of being inadequate held me back from pursuing a college education. During my first semester of college, I felt unprepared, unaware, and completely lost. The unfamiliar environmental challenges I faced increased my anxiety, causing me fail all of my classes. Failing my classes only reinforced the idea that I was not meant to be a college student. I was meant to be pregnant and working at McDonalds as a cashier as portrayed by stereotypes of people of color.

Society emphasizes that in order to achieve wealth and success one must obtain a formal education. However, there are still millions of students in the United States without a college degree, most of them children of immigrant parents. Langston mentioned, “if hard work were the sole determinant of your ability to support yourself and your family surely wed have a different outcome for many in our society” (p.398). So therefore, it does not just take hard work but also the additional resources that students from privileged communities have access to. How is it that we put so much emphasis on something so vital to economic growth and social mobility yet the discrepancies in educational outcomes within underrepresented populations prove otherwise? How is it that that the Declaration of Independence states that we have the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness to all who work hard yet when it comes to students from underrepresented and underprivileged communities attaining this, they are at a standstill.

The lack of resources has made it impossible for first generation students pursue the means to achieve prosperity, thus, decreasing the number of educated people of color and increasing the social stigma among these marginalized groups. If our youth are the future, wouldn’t it make sense to invest all our resources to ensure that they are shaped into valuable members of society that contribute to social mobility?

Working as a college recruiter for Los Angeles Pierce College, I was assigned to work in multiple high schools all throughout the San Fernando Valley. Being that this area is filled with diverse communities, I have first-hand witnessed the discrepancies within the education system. I was assigned to recruit at two high schools: Sherman Oaks for Enriched Studies (SOCES) in the outskirts and Panorama High School which was in the mid-valley. SOCES’s name is self-explanatory, it was a school for students that excelled academically, a school which had a reputation of Ivy League college admissions. Coincidently, the majority of the school’s population was wealthy Caucasian, Middle Eastern, and Asian students. On the other hand, Panorama High school was located in an underprivileged community, where the majority of the population was Hispanic and other immigrant backgrounds. Their socioeconomic background was reflected onto their views on higher education. The students at Panorama high school resisted any kind of assistance in pursuing higher education. Their lack of vision, goals, and motivation are said to be because of of their backgrounds.

While I worked with the college counselor at Panorama High School, I realized that she occupied the role of college, guidance, and suicide prevention counselor. However, she spent more time dealing with social emotional counseling, that she was unable to focus on preparing or information her students for college. I soon learned that school had less than a 50% graduation rate so pursuing higher education was the last of their concern. If the school received the funding it needed to provide a designated counselor for every dimension of the student’s education experience. If students had the financial support, exposure, and resources they needed then it would allow them to preserve through their education despite of any obstacles they may be facing.

In contrast, the students at SOCES aimed for excellence through AP courses, SAT prep, college classes, and anything that would help guarantee their admissions to a four-year university. The college counselor worked endlessly in coordinating university trips and ensuring that college recruiters gave presentations on a weekly basis. It is unfortunate that socioeconomic status and poor educational outcomes come hand in hand which only reinforces their negative beliefs towards academic achievement. That was the year that I knew that I belonged to a marginalized group, I realized that I also did not have the resources and means to pursue higher education. Young (2013) states that “marginalized groups are perhaps the most dangerous form of oppression. A whole category of people is expelled from useful participation in social life and thus potentially subjected to severe material deprivation.” (p. 39). The differences in the quality of educational outcomes within these two schools demonstrates the discrepancies between racial classes and the kind of educational resources they received.

The position I aspire to hold has two purposes, I will serve the community as a college counselor by providing educational resources, support, and direction to underrepresented populations. As well as serve as a mentor to others as they embark on their educational and professional journeys. My passion for making higher education available to every student, professional and educational experience, and life-long mission to make an impact in my community further solidifies my interest towards a career in serving others. By investing in my own community of first generation student of color, I aspire to be part of changed communities of color moving forward and breaking educational barriers.

Reflecting now, I am able to see the discrepancies in the education system, students of color are being deprived from the resources needed to reach their full potential. My experiences have given me insight for the needs of urban communities, allowing me to see the large disparity in education. The lack of resources, counselors, and mentors has made it a challenge for first-generation students to access equal opportunities in higher education. It has been with the privilege of my own personal experiences that has allowed me to gain tools and passion to address those needs. I am grateful for the obstacles I have overcome throughout my higher education experience, allowing me to alter the perception of myself as a Latina working vigorously to stray away from being labeled as another statistic. As a first generation college student, I will be able to use my experiences to emphasize and connect with my students. I will use my power of rigorously working and persevering through that obstacles the societal stigmas have placed on me. I will use my power to empower students who are currently struggling to break through the barriers of achieving a quality education. I will work diligently to ensure that every student has access to the resources and opportunities to navigate higher education.

Langston, D. Tired of playing monopoly.

Young, I.M. (2013). Five faces of oppression. In M. Adams, W. Blumenfeld, R. Castaneda, H. Hackman, M. Peters, & X. Zuniga (Eds.), Readings for Diversity and Social Justice. (3rd ed.) (pp. 35-45). New York: Routledge

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Is College Worth It: Race, Class, and Oppression in Education. (2022, Apr 08). Retrieved October 3, 2022 , from
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