Blue-Collar in the Ivory Tower: Resiliency & Working-Class Scholar

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Northeast Modern Language Association

Do you have working-class or blue-collar roots? Are you a first-generation academic? If so, you are invited to share your insights. This panel discussion will focus on the construct of class within academia, the intersection of class with gender and race, and the lived experiences of working-class academics. 

The conferral of a doctoral degree indicates full membership n the academic community, right? But what if you are a first-generation academic---perhaps the only member of your family to earn a graduate degree and then secure a faculty position? Although support services abound for first-generation undergraduate students who often struggle financially, academically, and socially in college, no such services are in place for working-class academics. Sadly, the social constructs of class, race, and gender can strongly influence one’s career trajectory in academia. One study stated that, in particular, “Women from blue-collar backgrounds in higher education experience a profound sense of not belonging, of being an ‘outsider within’ the academy” (Miller and Kastberg, p. 30).

Many working-class academics from blue-collar families of origin straddle two worlds, never quite assimilating into either. The term “success” is defined differently in each world, with success in academia often marked by “separateness and alienation from the working-class world of one’s roots” (Gardner, p. 52). For those from traditional, blue-collar families, this may mean choosing a life a scholarship that is far removed geographically---and ideologically---from their communities of origin.

This topic is significant because class oppression---like racial and gender oppression---is real within the Ivory tower. However, working-class academics can use their “‘outsider within’ status to challenge the institution….” (Gardner, p. 56).

Gardner, Saundra. “What’s a Nice Working-Class Girl Like you Doing in a Place Like this?” Working Class Women in the Academy: Laborers in the Knowledge Factory. Eds. Michelle M. Tokarczyk and Elizabeth A. Fey. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1993. 45-59. Print.

Miller, Darlene G. and Signe M. Kastberg. “Of Blue Collars and Ivory Towers: Women from Blue-Collar Backgrounds in Higher Education.” Rooper Review 18:1 (1995): 27-33. Web. Academic Search Complete. 25 Aug. 2013.