A number of our students are experiencing greater challenges and less opportunities simply based on where they grow up or what socio-economic status they are born into. Project Inspire’s work is an effort to provide those students who often have less opportunities, with the chance to gain additional social and professional capital to level the playing field.
Let’s take a deeper look into what exactly neighborhood segregation is and how it impacts youth. Neighborhood segregation affects the opportunity to create strongly diverse social networks. These divisions create lasting consequences for cross-racial and cross-cultural interactions. The lack of interactions between low-income students and upper-class peers from different communities even creates a social barrier between these student groups attending the same school. Without connecting with classmates, low-income students lose chances to create crucial social connections. Cross-cultural interactions can create a similar type of division between those of the same race with different amounts of social connections. The importance of connecting low-income students to one another and other peers of different socioeconomic statuses is paramount.
Elizabeth A. Armstrong, author of Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality, analyzed how social interactions differed between students with plentiful social connections (who she refers to as socialites) and students with little to no social connections (who she refers to as wannabes) at a large flagship university. These “wannabes” felt isolated from others due to the imbalanced power dynamics in social networks. This is most apparent in the successful attainment of certain jobs after college. A socialite, Naomi, obtained an internship at a major news network; however, she had gotten the internship through connections and not through her own merit. A wannabe, Blair, noted the difference between those with connections and those without connections. She recounted an instance when her father could not get a job because of his lack of connections. The benefits of strong social networks extended within and beyond college as socialites and wannabes obtained jobs due to the social networks they possessed.
To help its students, Project Inspire has formal structures in place for students of lower-income backgrounds to support one another but also empower and equip youth to connect with peers from different socioeconomic backgrounds in college and beyond.
Post by Project Inspire guest blogger, Kristy An
Photo credit: GH Youth Summit Mentorship (Flickr)