In writing this AERA paper on APA students and community colleges, I came across a recent Harvard Ed Review article by Estela Bensimon/Alicia Dowd on Latino/a transfer students. I haven’t read the full article, but what caught my eye was that out of the 5 students they interviewed, all were eligible to transfer to a UC but only one chose to. Usually the big deal with transfer is just getting students to be transfer eligible, but I haven’t read much about student selection of colleges once they decide to transfer. That one sentence re: not transferring to a UC makes me think the conflict between so-called rational choice/self-interest and just how people’s choices make sense within the context of their own social worlds, but not necessarily to those who don’t share that experience/lens. To me I think, why would a student not attend a UC if they got in, but there could be a myriad of outside reasons.
Helping me make sense of this subjectivity of life choices is Bourdieu’s concept of habitus, basically a forcefield of taken for granted assumptions, expectations, etc. that we have that are mainly shaped by social class. [My mentor at UCLA, Pat McDonough, was the first one to apply Bourdieu’s work on cultural capital/habitus to the study of college choice…which was previously conceptualized as this straight forward, “rational” process where people would just make decisions that objectively made “sense”] In a nutshell, what makes sense to one person may not make sense to another, but it’s not just a matter of personal choice or dispositions (“to each his/her own”) but heavily shaped by the social contexts that we inhabit.
I learned about habitus through Pat’s work on college choice, but as I’m looking at intersections between race and class in college environments, I’m thinking of ways that habitus influences how students experience college–for some, college is congruent with their habitus/set of expectations of what college should be like, for others, it’s wildly disruptive. (Okay, I don’t know about “wildly” but it sounds intense.) How does that play into how (some) college(s) socialize students into pathways of social mobility (and even the world of social elites, for some) that they would have probably never be privy to otherwise? (I am thinking of the really, really long Korean American chick lit book Free Food for Millionaires here. Not a bad read, but could be about 200 pgs shorter.) How do low income students alter, adjust, or reconstruct their habitus after attending an elite institution–or do they? I always remember one pretty affluent professor who said she still can never buy clothes if they weren’t on sale.