Reimagining Higher Education for the New Majority

Friday, November 10, 2017 - 2:00pm to Sunday, November 12, 2017 - 2:00pm

BTtoP-Sponsored Retreats Help Faculty Support the Well-Being of New Majority and Underserved Students

Bringing Theory to Practice (BTtoP) is pleased to share news of a series of scholar retreats, “Preparing Professors for New-Majority Students in Higher Education.” Made possible with the support of a BTtoP grant and matched by funding from Berea College and the University of Michigan, twenty participants including faculty, independent scholars, and administrators joined students at a first gathering at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, from November 10–12, 2017, to reimagine a higher education where immersive programs, pedagogies, and inclusive campus cultures would support the flourishing of all students. Focusing on new-majority and underserved students (e.g. low-income students, first-generation students, and students of color), and the institutional discrimination and barriers to learning they encounter on campus, the group set out to answer the following questions: 
  • What are institutions doing to take seriously for all students, and especially for the new majority, relationships among learning, teaching, and student well-being?
  • How can institutional culture be encouraged to value the contributions of new-majority students, instead of viewing them through the lens of deficiency?
  • How can institutions reward professors who support the well-being of new-majority students? How, specifically, can these professors support new-majority students and their social justice work?
“There is a widely acknowledged need to challenge higher education—wherein the campus culture values and embraces first-generation students, students of color, adult learners, and other emerging scholars as being the expected norm. Faculty members are strategically situated to facilitate and to lead changes which address that challenge and enable underserved students to learn and to flourish—but it would appear that too few faculty are trained, encouraged, supported, expected, and rewarded to exercise their roles,” said retreat leaders Barry Checkoway, BTtoP Consultant and Professor of Social Work and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan, and Chad Berry, Academic Vice President and Dean of the Faculty at Berea College.

Student Voices

Much was gained by centering the conversation on student voices. Small groups of participants were given time and space at the beginning of the Berea gathering to engage in conversation with new-majority students. Chad Berry and Barry Checkoway recorded two of their responses:
Older poor students bring significant life experience into the classroom, but our experience often serves to isolate us when classrooms are not age-diverse. Every day I remind myself not to speak in class. In most classrooms, my life experience intimidates fellow students and even faculty. In more age-diverse classrooms, or in classes led by faculty with good facilitation skills, my experience becomes valuable to fellow students and valued by the professor. In most classes, it is unwanted. Other older poor students I know report a similar experience. We have spent years unprotected by family or institution from the violence of poverty, and we carry a different type of scars than those that mark our classmates. I wish there was a structural way for our hard-won wisdom to have a place in class, especially when aspects of poverty are being explained to our classmates by professors who have not experienced it. A radical suggestion would be to increase age diversity of the classroom, so that it reflects more of the age demographic found in community college. My experience of being an older poor student is a struggle against loneliness.—Anna
It is evident that every institution needs to adjust the lens it has been using to address higher education and focus more on the intersectionality component, because we will soon have to implement mechanisms in place that bring opportunity for students who are not wealthy, white, cis, heterosexual, and American. As a Mexican, first-generation, undocumented, and openly gay student, I share my narrative and role to provide context into why there is a need and space for improvement. When building a structure or framework for underrepresented minorities like myself, especially under a Trump Presidency, it is critical that we consider the best practices for the communities directly being affected. Of course, the students cannot do this alone; thus, faculty and staff prove to be fundamental in this process of a student’s sense of belonging, access to resources and opportunity, and overall well-being in higher education. Sharing my personal experiences provides insight into how administrators and faculty can better serve all of their students that look, speak, and identify like me.—Osvaldo


The following list of resources may be useful to others engaging in this work; many resulted from the initial gathering thanks to insights from scholars working across silos on diverse campuses across the country, including bell hooks, the renowned writer, theorist, and critic, who engaged in conversation with participants.
  • Brooke Barnett and Peter Felten, eds., Intersectionality in Action: A Guide for Faculty and Campus Leaders for Creating Inclusive Classrooms and Institutions (Sterling, VA: Stylus, 2016).
  • Cia Verschelden, Bandwidth Recovery: Helping Students Reclaim Cognitive Resources Lost to Poverty, Racism, and Social Marginalization (Sterling, VA: Stylus, 2017). 
  • Kathleen A. Ross, Breakthrough Strategies: Classroom-Based Practices to Support New Majority College Students (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2016). 
  • Kimberly A. Costino, “Equity-Minded Faculty Development: An Intersectional Identity-Conscious Community of Practice Model for Faculty Learning,” Metropolitan Universities 29, no. 1 (2018).
  • Emily Schuster, ed., “Intersectionality and Well-Being,” special issue, Diversity & Democracy 21, no. 1 (2018). 
  • Association of American Colleges and Universities, A Vision for Equity (Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2018).

Next Steps

As the second gathering approaches (to be held at the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor from April 13–15) the goal is to focus on building materials to share with administrators and faculty nationwide to deepen faculty knowledge about and commitment to new-majority students. These include creating a new-majority student clearinghouse of information for having conversations and fostering positive change in higher education settings. Participants hope that others nationwide will be willing to add to it, building its depth and breadth over time.
Those committed to the advancement of new-majority students are encouraged to share their suggestions, thoughts, or resources with Barry Checkoway, Chad Berry, and/or the BTtoP team. Your suggestions and participation are welcome as the initiative moves forward! 
Barry Checkoway: 
Chad Berry: 
Twitter: @BTtoPractice