Working Class in the Library
Portland State University is an urban, access university. This means that students don’t face nearly as many academic barriers, such as entrance exams, in order to attend PSU as opposed to other colleges. Nevertheless, students do encounter many hidden barriers that affect their chances of getting into, staying at, and graduating from PSU—barriers associated with race, gender, citizenship, abilities, and the topic of this article—socioeconomic status. We need to acknowledge that all of these characteristics intersect and play out differently, so it’s hard to look at just one of these characteristics at a time. “Working class” isn’t the same experience for students who identify as black or queer or immigrant or differently abled. By pulling on the thread of socioeconomic status, we can begin to unravel how many of these other characteristics weave together to form the warp and weft of students’ experiences in college. We have to start somewhere, and starting where you are is just as good as anywhere else—but while keeping in mind that we have no way of knowing where our journey might take us. For example, I am from a working class background, but I started off from a much more privileged place because of my race—white— and my gender—male—than many other working class students. But urban access universities that have lower barriers to admission, like PSU and the ones I attended back in Michigan, do seem to be a magnet for working class students. When working with all students in the library, but with working class students in particular, it is incumbent on us to understand, and perhaps even use in our own practice, critical theories and critical methods.