* NOTE: For more information about the reading and prompt that inspired this essay, please click here.
Recently at UCLA, there was a student protest arguing for diversity on campus, for affirmative action—still a controversial issue to this day. Many people against affirmative action believe that hard work and merit should be the determining factors for admission, yet they are often unaware of ‘how hard exactly’ a low-income student of color works to get accepted into a university such as UCLA. In “Forces Influencing Student Persistence and Achievement,” Edward Anderson discusses how a force field model is useful in illustrating the reasons why a low-income student may be less prepared than other students and how socioeconomic plays a significant role in whether a student aspires to go to college or not. The force field model is a visible way to view the internal and external factors that influence a student’s decision to pursue, attend, and stay in college. In a diagram, as exemplified in the picture below, one lists the factors that support one’s decision to attend college and factors that discourage or conflict with college attendance. External factors are things outside of one’s control that play an influential role, consisting of one’s environment, one’s socioeconomic background, one’s family, and more.
However, internal factors are things within one’s realm of control because they deal with one’s mentality – how one sees him/herself and what his/her attitude is towards learning and academic achievement. Though external factors often shape one’s identity and perspective, by actively seeking help and being determined, one can transcend any external barriers and actively define him/herself. This is not to say it will be easy; Anderson argues: “Low-income students will need to spend more time and energy studying and adjusting to college than students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds,” yet however, low-income students “[have less] time and energy available for academic demands and general adjustment issues.” We can note from this that the struggle is demanding and sometimes against what others may want, but the struggle is for one to define him/herself and how one wants to see him/herself. By utilizing the force field model as a tool, one will realize how many factors positively and negatively influence his or her perspective on college, allowing one to recognize what exactly must be overcome in order to push against the odds.
Having a job as a writing counselor at UCLA, I feel that I must assume the role of a confident and reliable person because I am responsible for guiding students in the writing process. However, outside of my job, I realize that I am no different from many of the low-income students that our writing program services; I have struggled with similar internal conflicts ranging from self-doubt and fears of failure to procrastination and loneliness. Where I differ from most low-income students is that I was fortunate enough to have the necessary support, resources, and information to be eligible and apply for college. However, after creating my own force field model, I realized that though I have had many positive external factors that helped me overcome the barriers of low-income students, I still carry the doubts and fears of a low-income student who has only heard so much about college but never had familiar access or exposure to the environment and many well-educated people. My background did not provide me with the right words to socially interact with other university students nor equip me with the experience of speaking to persons with authority—faculty and university staff members.
A major internal conflict I face is my inability to speak, which has led me to doubt my capabilities and question my place at such a prestigious university. Fortunately, I recognized this separation between me, the university and my lack of participation on campus, so I confronted this obstacle by getting more involved, volunteering for different organizations, applying to be a writing counselor, and stretching my self-imposed limitations. As a result, I became more familiar with the campus and the kinds of people I wanted to meet and work with. Through dedication, an open mind, and word of mouth from a fellow volunteer student, I found my place with the Writing Success Program, a place that has challenged me and continues to push me to discover my strengths and areas for growth. I, myself, am an example of a low-income student who has persisted through external and internal difficulties and has achieved much more than academic success; I gained a life changing skill, one that encourages me to defy myself and make the impossible a reality.
Post submitted by Christina