Students host event exploring socioeconomic equity in higher education

Entomology graduate student Dan Turner shares about organizing an event with Harvard sociologist Anthony Jack and explains why entomology students are passionate about this topic.

Tony Jack with a copy of his book.
MSU Entomology graduate students hosted author Anthony A. Jack for a virtual discussion and webinar with the MSU community on improving inclusion for lower-income and first-generation students.

In the words of our speaker, Dr. Anthony Abraham Jack, “Access ain’t inclusion.” Universities, including Michigan State University, boast admission demographics without enough focus on inclusion for their lower-income and first-generation students so they can participate fully in undergraduate life and success. For Michigan State and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) to ameliorate some of the strongest barriers to success for these students, frank conversations with experts are required.

That’s why the Graduate and Undergraduate Entomology Student Society (GUESS) in collaboration with the CANR Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI) invited Jack, Harvard sociologist and author of “The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students,” for an afternoon of virtual events with students, faculty and staff. To host this event, GUESS and the CANR ODEI received the Creating Inclusive Excellence Grant from the MSU Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives.

For the students, this event was the culmination of months of discussion on promoting the success of our lower-income and first-generation students, whether in the classroom, lab or field. Attendees came from nine different MSU colleges and institutes, several CANR departments, K-12 education in Michigan and wildlife management agencies, demonstrating the need for conversations like these.

Jack spoke frequently of the “hidden curriculum” in academic environments—a curriculum where the students who know when and where to make the right moves get ahead. This curriculum is based not just on who you know, but how well they know you; it is not based on meritocracy but knowledge of how to forge connections with professors and administrators who can elevate a student’s status in a stratified academic world. Jack’s talking points came from both his research and life experience, and the fervor through which he advocates for students inspired us to keep opening doors for students who were and are excluded from the many opportunities higher education can provide.

Some may wonder why entomology students wanted to bring a sociologist to speak on socioeconomic equity in higher education. Well, people are around us everywhere we go to study insects. For too long, entomology has largely been limited to those who knew to reach out to that professor to ask for an undergraduate research opportunity, who knew to go to office hours for that stellar letter of recommendation, who could afford to drive or fly long distances to remote places for eye-catching lines on a CV, and who could pass up a better-paying job working at home to work in a lab on campus over the summer. We want to see faculty and administrators expand inclusion for students across economic means.

This event is just one step in that direction. We hope the event, as well as other Department of Entomology and student initiatives, like this summer’s Entomology Research and Outreach Fellowship program, which recruits undergraduates from institutions with limited research opportunities, promote both access to and inclusion in academia’s opportunities. We will create an entomology community that represents and consists of the diverse communities we seek to serve.

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