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Riffe Explores Challenges for Professors of Working-Class Backgrounds

Karley Riffe

by Larissa Lozano

Although there is substantial writing by academics from working-class backgrounds, there is little research on the relationship between social class and positions in academia. 

To address this gap in research, Karly Riffe (MIHE PhD 2018), Meghan Pifer, Jacob Hartz, and Maria Ibarra gathered narratives from over 200 working-class academics (WCA) to understand how they contribute to student goals and development. Their findings appear in Innovative Higher Education.

They seek to answer questions such as “How do working-class academics perceive their class backgrounds as influencing their experiences at work and at home?” and “How do working-class academics perceive their careers in the academy as influencing their experiences at work and at home?”

The authors analyzed the impacts of academia on WCAs using literature where scholars rely on their background to describe academic and personal experiences. Also, instead of classifying academics as “working-class” based on socioeconomic data, they considered the language academics use to refer to their background. Examples include “working-class Southern rural” and “blue-collar scholar.”

Riffe, Pifer, Hartz, and Ibarra claim that “WCAs enrich the postsecondary environment for students [by helping in] recruiting, supporting, and educating working-class students.” Because of WCAs’ personal experiences, they can guide these students through challenges in an environment that “embodies middle- and upper-class cultural values, norms, and perspectives.”

The authors also note a few key commonalities among the WCA experience, such as 
●    They work harder than their middle- and upper-class peers to compensate for the lack of cultural and human capital.
●    They claim to have a hard time understanding “institutional culture and social mores that dictated role and behavioral norms in the academy (academia).”
●   They often suffer from fear of disapproval by their peers, physical and psychological pain caused by overwork, and discrimination.

Read the full article.

Pifer, M.J., Riffe, K.A., Hartz, J.T. et al. (2022). Paradise, Nearly Forty Years Later: The Liminal Experiences of Working-Class Academics. Innovative Higher Education.

Karley Riffe earned her PhD from the McBee Institute and currently serves as assistant professor in the Department of Educational Foundations, Leadership, and Technology at Auburn University.

Type of News/Audience:


PhD, 2018
Friday, April 22, 2022 - 11:28am

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