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Unequally Adrift: How Social Class and College Context Shape Students’ Mentorship Experiences

Sociological Forum

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["\nFaculty mentorship is a highly advantageous yet under‐explored form of social capital which can grant access to co‐curriculars (e.g., research assistantships), ensure strong letters of recommendation, and more. It is also typically informal and dependent on student initiative, requiring that students be skilled at engaging educational authority figures. Privileged students are most likely to have such skills as part of their dominant cultural capital, making faculty mentorship a site of social reproduction. To explore variations in this process, I compare two institution types: a small, teaching/undergraduate‐focused regional university and a large, research‐intensive flagship. In interviews with 68 working‐ and upper‐middle‐class students, I find that college context mediates the relationship of class background and faculty mentorship. Upper‐middle‐class students fostered advantageous faculty relationships at both universities, but working‐class students diverged: at the flagship, they rarely approached professors in search of mentorship, while those at the regional university described close, beneficial connections with professors. I discuss working‐class students’ dissimilar experiences in terms of each university’s structural and cultural characteristics (organizational habitus), particularly their institutional focus and size. I argue that through their particular organizational features, colleges can both reproduce and reduce inequalities, challenging the determinacy of precollege socialization in education.\n", "Sociological Forum, Volume 35, Issue 3, Page 744-764, September 2020. "]