Race, gender and sexuality are front and center in discussions about diversity on university campuses, but according to Timothy Haney, one major issue has been overlooked: class background.
Haney was troubled by the fact that few university hiring policies include social class as a criterion of diversity, so he decided to undertake a study of university professors to explore how their socioeconomic backgrounds have impacted their educational and career trajectories.
By analyzing the educational experiences of 176 full-time university professors at 95 Canadian universities, Haney uncovered some significant differences between those with working-class backgrounds and those with middle-class backgrounds.
The study, published in the most recent issue of the Canadian Review of Sociology, revealed that academics with working-class origins were forced to work harder during university to compensate for advantages instilled in their middle-class peers by their home environments or by better schools. Those with working-class roots feel that they entered university with less preparation, received less support from their families, and made larger sacrifices as they moved from “factory to faculty.”
In fact, professors who come from middle class backgrounds are 5 times more likely to have discussed intellectual issues such as politics, theory, or ethics with their families when growing up. They are also 2.6 times more likely to report having received parental financial support for university.
Plus, coming from a middle-class family more than doubles the odds of having parents that support the decision to attend university in the first place.
“If we’re going to talk about diversity in the academy, I think it’s really important that we also talk about class diversity,” says Haney, who hopes the paper opens up discussions about equity in university hiring to include social class.