Are we clamoring for the “marginalized” label?

I have mixed feelings about some of the thoughts and ideas expressed in a recent ACRLog post from Sarah Crissinger about first generation students and/or professionals.  In her blog (and other blogs she links to) there is a discussion of the being a first generation college student and how that negatively affects students’ feelings of worth, guilt, or sense of belonging.  In response to this issue, many colleges offer support services targeted to first generation college students, and, in some cases students themselves form first-generation support groups.

I think it’s a worthwhile endeavor to research the first-generation student experience and to apply that research to help students adjust to an academic setting.  But what gives me pause it the suggestion that this type of support should be continued into the professional world.  I’m not so sure it should be.

Like many of the bloggers on this issue, I was also a first generation college student.  I grew up in a single-parent home where income was not constant and I was the first in my family to go to college.  No doubt that my background experiences affected how I acclimated to college and even major parts of my personality today.  But at the time, and even now, I eschewed the idea that because I was poor that I could not perform on the same level as my peers.  I distinctly remember being somewhat offended at the invitation to low-income student support services, but I also remember times when my low-income background and status put me at odds with my peers.  However, I adapted, learned, and simply did what was asked of me and I was able to succeed.

So it may be no surprise that I’m hard-nosed about first-generation professional support.  I don’t know if it’s because of my background and/or personality, but I believe that everyone has feelings of insecurity at each new stage of their life: elementary school, high school, new relationships, college, marriage, every job/career. And I bet if I’m lucky enough to make it to a retirement home I’ll feel insecure about being there too.  Impostor syndrome is a real, wide-spread issue and I hope to blog about it in the future since it’s a fascinating topic and I’m no stranger to the syndrome.  But for now I’m arguing this: feelings of insecurity about being in a new, professional setting are shared experiences among everyone in the profession.  There is no need to subdivide the new professionals and suggest that not only is one’s socio-economic background the sole reason for insecure feelings, but to also claim that only someone from the same socio-economic background can understand and help work through those feelings.

Don’t get me wrong – there are marginalized groups who are inarguably affected everyday by their status and they should seek support if they feel the need.  But having once been poor (or just not rich) isn’t a marginalized status, is it?  It feels a bit too “me too” in discussions of privilege and disadvantage. I just don’t think having grown up in a lower to middle income family is a burden that should be carried with you into the professional world.  We’re spreading the concepts of disadvantage and marginalization too thin.  If everyone is marginalized, no one is marginalized.

But maybe I’ve just adopted too much of the typical masculine mantra when it comes to the profession: suck it up and walk it off.


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