Friday, September 16, 2016

Online Discussion #2 - Due Tuesday, September 20: Student Debt


After reading the selections from Ken Ilgunas's Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom, Steele and Williams's "Who got rich off the student debt crisis" (also available in modified form as "Lives on Hold" from Consumer Reports), the excerpt from Rebekah Nathan's My Freshman Year, and (optionally) the first chapter of Alan Collinge's The Student Loan Scam (all available in the Resources -- Required Course Readings on our Sakai site), please reflect on one of the questions below regarding student debt.

College debt in the U.S. is rapidly nearing a staggering $1.5 Trillion, becoming a hidden drag on the economy and a secret drag on many people's lives.  I say "secret," because most Americans do not talk about their debt in public, and therefore few of us recognize just how widespread a problem it is.  Our readings today reveal many of the lives touched by debt and thus offer us real insight into the ways that student debt shapes the lives of many college graduates.  The readings also touch on (in Steele and Williams's article, Collinge's story about the privatization of Sallie Mae, and in Ilgunas's stories about his best friend, Josh Pruyn, who goes to work for a for-profit school) the sleazy relationship between colleges and the student loan industry, as well as the very troubling practices of for-profit schools and private banks that have made student loans such a profitable area for both bankers and investors.   For this discussion, I want you to take a closer look at the way widespread student debt (which is a relatively recent phenomenon) has changed the lives of students and their experience of college (especially by making it less of a route to financial and cognitive freedom), or to look at the ways that the system seems rigged in favor of the banks and those associated with the banking industry.

Answer one of the following in the comments below, then respond to someone else:

Question Option #1: "Is college no longer a 'liminal' space for self-discovery?"
In the excerpt from her book My Freshman Year, Rebekah Nathan discusses how the cost of college seems to have changed the experience of many students, making college less a place for free exploration and discovery and more a place to focus on preparing for the job market or the pressures of debt.  How does Nathan's argument connect to at least one of the other readings for today, and what does that reading suggest about Nathan's thesis?  Is college no longer a 'liminal' space of freedom between childhood and adulthood? Or is it still possible to make college a place where people can freely choose who they want to become or how they want to live -- or where they can learn how to think freely (which is the essential meaning of "the liberal arts") so they can solve the problem of debt?

Question Option #2: "Does debt destroy freedom?"
Based on the readings -- and citing specific evidence from two of them -- answer at least one of the following questions:  How does debt affect the lives of debtors?  Do students make choices that get them into debt or is it a trap they fall into?  How is debt sometimes caused by limited choices -- and how does being in debt itself constrain choice?  How can debtors regain or reassert their "freedom"?  What do you think students can do about the growing problem of student debt and the larger problem of income inequality it exacerbates?

Question Option #3: "Are the banks to blame?"
Based on the readings -- and citing specific evidence from at least two of them -- how does the larger system of higher education privatization and the student loan industry effectively transfer wealth from poor students to bankers and wealthy investors, thus furthering the ways that college maintains inequality?  Are the banks to blame? Or are they less to blame than government and even the colleges themselves?  What do you think can be done about the growing problem of student debt and the larger problem of income inequality it exacerbates?

Respond to this question using the comments feature below, making direct reference to two of the readings in your comment, before we meet on Tuesday.  Then comment on another student's comment.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Online Discussion #1 - Tuesday, September 13th: Class Divides

All of the readings for today assume that there is a social dimension to how we define ourselves, because identity is strongly influenced by how others perceive us.  There are also established social institutions (such as "the party pathway" or long-standing corporate recruitment relationships) that can influence personal goals and trajectories during college and beyond.

In their book Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality, sociologists Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton describe many subtle ways that social class is marked at college, and they suggest that these tiny markers can magnify seemingly small differences in family background and income.  The film The Red portrays the way a recent graduate with debt struggles to establish a secure foothold in the middle class while surrounded by the subtle signs of social class membership or exclusion (of which she is in denial.)  And in the OPTIONAL reading "Biographies of Hegemony," anthropologist Karen Ho points to signals that students at elite schools receive from big banks recruiting on campus that shape their sense of self or choice of career and lifestyle. 

Choose ONE of the following questions and use at least one of the readings to answer it, then post a comment on another student's post:

1. Social Engagement vs. Isolation.  How exactly does social engagement or disengagement impact academic and career?  (Consider, for example, Armstrong and Hamilton, from page 111 forward). Are there downsides to too much social engagement?  And how does social class or economic limitation impact how well students fit in socially?  

2. Social Reproduction vs. Mobility.  Armstrong and Hamilton's discussion of "fit" (or lack of fit for "wannabes") between student and "pathway" through college, and Ho's description of the way the idea of "smartness" reinforces belonging and entitlement within elite institutions, might suggest that social forces conspire to reproduce social class and defeat social mobility.  Is it possible to read against the grain of our texts to find evidence for social mobility? Is it possible to use ideas from these texts to suggest ways of helping more students to break through seemingly impermeable class boundaries?  Or does college society make it very difficult to ignore social class boundaries?

3. Subtle Signifiers of Social Class.  Class consciousness is often communicated through very small gestures and seemingly insignificant remarks -- including entitled swagger, ostentatious displays of consumption, subtle snubs, microaggressions, passive aggressive behavior, or what one student calls "being mean nicely" (Armstrong and Hamilton 101).  These gestures of association or "disassociation" (A and H 100ff) can cause a "vampire effect" (A and H 104ff) in the dorm, and they have a big impact on the relative success of "socialites" and "wannabes" (A and H 118ff) who follow the "party pathway."  Class division is thus usually communicated and received in very unconscious and unremarked ways. All of the readings for today draw our attention to the tiny ways that class consciousness is created and "hegemony" is reinforced.  How might specific terms or ideas discussed by Armstrong & Hamilton or Ho help to understand the behavior of the characters portrayed in the short film The Red (see below)? What parallels can you draw between the roommates in the film and students discussed by Armstrong and Hamilton or Ho?  What specific details from the film connect to these authors' analyses of the ways college helps to "maintain inequality"?  




Use the comments feature below and make direct reference to the readings in your comment (which must be posted before we meet on Tuesday).  Then please comment on another student's comment (you may need to come back later and the second comment is due after we meet).  You must post and comment to receive the full two points participation credit.  Note: if you post anonymously, please sign your post with at least your first name.  

Monday, September 5, 2016

Two College Sports Documentaries

There have been a number of college sports documentaries.  Two recent ones that examine the business of college sports include:

Schooled: The Price of College Sports, inspired by an article by Taylor Branch and available on Amazon and other online sites:


The Business of Amateurs which was just released on Amazon and elsewhere.


If you are planning to write about college sports, these would be a good place to start.  I would also strongly recommend you get a copy of Indentured: The Inside Story of the Rebellion Against the NCAA by Joe Nocera and Ben Strauss.

The Hunting Ground

This film is now available on Amazon and other online sites.


If you are interested in the subject of campus rape, watching this film would be a good place to start.  I would also strongly recommend the book Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Ivory Tower

This film is now available from Amazon and other online sites.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

New Tools to Simplify Library Research

When I was a college student, we used to have to look through Reader's Guides to Periodical Literature in book form and then go to the Card Catalogue(!) to find articles and books.  And we used to have to walk miles to school, in the snow, of course -- and they never gave us snow days....  Thank goodness things have changed.  Here are three new tools to make your research easier:



Flow.  Flow helps you collect, cite, manage, and organize research for college papers.  It works like an app, and once you install it you can use it whenever you need it.




Articles+.  This search page gives you some interesting functionality, especially for doing broad searches across several databases.  "Introducing Articles+, a new way to search for articles" explains how it works.



Those looking for free help in putting their citations into proper MLA format should check out "Son of Citation Machine," which is a free (ad supported) internet app that guides you through the process and generates MLA format by just having you fill in a few blanks.  It even tells you how to cite the work properly for in-text citation.  So no excuses! 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Atlantic's "Fraternity Problem"


The Dark Power of Fraternities by Caitlin Flanagan (The Atlantic, February 19, 2014) may not be the most positive portrait of fraternities, but it offers a lot of critical insight into the history and increasing prestige and power of these venerable college institutions.  It should also be required reading for anyone who joins a fraternity or attends a fraternity party, as it reveals what the insurance industry has long known: that fraternities are often the site of accidents and injuries--and all of the very costly legal and insurance-related issues associated with them.  The historical and financial details offered by the article make it a must-read, especially for the many members of this class who belong to Greek letter organizations.