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Conversations on social class help promote inclusion, says professor with low-income background

Dr. Julian Mendez joined Dr. Rivera on stage during a question and answer portion of the B.W. Bastian Foundation Diversity Series. The event on Oct. 3 focused on the need for inclusion on college campuses, particularly when it comes to social class. (Madison Hales)

To promote inclusion on college campuses, students have a responsibility to talk about social class, said Dr. David Rivera at the lecture “Access and Belonging: Centering on Social Class in the Need for Campus Inclusion” Oct. 3 in the Bill and Vieve Gore Business School Auditorium.  

Rivera began by telling a story about a boy on a college campus nearly 20 years ago.

He told the story of a boy who skipped classes because he didn’t relate to anyone in the room. A boy who rationed his meal plan to save money. A boy who didn’t plan to return after his first year of college.

That boy was Dr. David Rivera.

Rivera was a first-generation, low-income student who was able to eventually make connections on campus that erased his feelings of social isolation. He graduated from college and went on to receive two master’s degrees and a doctoral degree.

Rivera, who now works at Queen’s College in New York City, is passionate about bringing awareness to campus inclusion — especially in regards to first-generation and low-income students.  

“Social class is at the base,” Rivera said. “The base is the ground we stand on. If we take care of these people, they will realize that they belong here.”

Dr. Julian Mendez, an associate professor of psychology, joined Rivera on stage and asked him what the audience should take away from the lecture and how they could put it into practice.

Rivera encouraged students to have conversations about the different aspects of social class. 

“Privileged voices also need to talk about social class,” Rivera said. “There is a responsibility to talk about it.”

Although these conversations can be difficult to have, Rivera advised to “just talk about it [to first-generation and low-income students] with an earnest heart.”

Maggie Burns and Katie Perry, both studying psychology at Westminster, said they originally attended to get extra credit for a class but stayed for something much bigger. 

“I wanted to come because I am really passionate about social justice and education,” Burns said. “A lot of the work that they talked about tonight pertains to a lot of volunteer work that I do, so it all came together in one event.”

Perry agreed, saying the speaker shared similar life experiences making the event resonate more strongly. 

“I went to the first Bastian event and really liked it,” Perry said. “This one especially pertained to me since I am a first-generation college student.”

 Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Tamara Stevenson said when closing the event that lectures like this “help all of us to understand our differences in hoped to create a better learning environment.”


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Madison Hales is a senior communication major. She enjoys being a part time vegan, shoe shopping and spending time with her grandmother. Madison is eager to use the skills she has acquired in the real world.

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