The University of Massachusetts Amherst


CASEC Speaker | Tina Wildhagen

Wednesday, March 4, 2020 - 11:30am to 1:00pm

UMass Amherst | Thompson 919 - Rossi Room

Tina Wildhagen | CASEC | UMass Sociology

UMass Sociology's CASEC Presents:

Tina Wildhagen | A Conduit for Power: The First-Generation Category as Disciplinary Force and Tool in the Struggle for Institutional Legitimacy

How do first-generation college students navigate college life, both inside and outside of the classroom? This question, which frames much contemporary research on class inequalities on college campuses, focuses on inter-class dynamics. In this talk, I shift the focus toward emergent intra-class dynamics on one college campus. Conflicts play out between two student organizations focused on issues of social class inequality and identity, with the organizations making competing claims to legitimacy and authenticity. The leadership of one student organization deploys the category first-generation college student to lay claim to institutional legitimacy, establishing its members as meritorious and deserving of their place at the college. The other organization adopts a vision of social class relations as deeply antagonistic and intersecting with other axes of inequality, frequently rendering its position on campus, and by extension the positions of its members, as adversarial toward the college rather than collaborative. This work demonstrates how the now ubiquitous first-generation college student category is not merely descriptive, but also can serve as a conduit of power for students looking to claim institutional legitimacy on campus.

Tina Wildhagen’s research and teaching interests focus on social inequality in the American education system. She teaches courses on privilege and power in American education, inequality in higher education and research methods. Much of her research and teaching investigates how the social construction of academic merit tends to favor privileged social groups. For instance, changes in the definition of academic merit over time have tended to track very closely with changes in middle class parenting practices, such that middle class students tend to adapt more quickly and effectively to changes in the definition of merit than do their less-advantaged peers. She is currently working on a project examining the rise of the first-generation college student category since the late 1990s. Since 2017, she also has served as the dean of the sophomore class.