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BAME students say “swallow pride” to get best grades

Minority ethnic students say their peers should “swallow their pride” and make use of available support to become high achieving students, according to new research published in the British Journal of Sociology of Education.

The reflections of final year ‘high-achieving non-traditional’ participants including BAME, working-class, and mature students have been published in the British Journal of Sociology of Education as part of a project to understand how to close the attainment gap for under-represented students.

One of the key issues highlighted by students who took part was that ‘a mixture of fear and pride’ stopped them from getting support from professional services offered by their university. The paper reveals that an ‘autonomous’ identity of self-reliance meant that some students may avoid one-to-one tutorials, as they “don’t really ask anything from anyone in life”.

Foreman (not his real name), a Black British young male who was interviewed as part of the research said:

“I’ll tell them to swallow their pride, you’re gonna(sic) need help, even if you have a system in place, it can be improved on. Don’t get too stuck in your own way. Take your shield down, just open yourself up… Go to the student support service if you have issues with your writing. Go and bother your lecturers and ask them to see drafts, go to every tutorial and make sure you are there for every session because you will learn something.”

Dr Billy Wong, Lecturer in Widening Participation at the University of Reading’s Institute of Education said:

“We need to dispel the perception that seeking support is reserved for those who are desperate or dependent and promote the importance of students utilising their available support as a key attribute of an independent student.

“Despite the concerns we read about of ‘student-as-consumers’, changes in higher education have not yet fully challenged the traditional idea of who a student is – white and middle-class.”

The paper recommends a number of steps that universities should take to help students and normalise the support services that is provided, including:

  • Formalising the tutor support system as a core part of the student experience rather than as an ‘optional extra’;
  • Providing clear guidance and information on what expectations on students getting assistance from tutors and support services;
  • Providing example assignments to help students to understand the academic style of writing expected of them;
  • Involving students in decision-making about how support services are developed so that tutors et al are aligned to what students actually intend to use.

Dr Billy Wong said:

“The latest paper reveals the extent to which ‘just asking’ for support should be part of a students’ educational journey. We recommend that Universities ought to promote a culture within their institution that support services are an expected norm.

“It seems that it’s not good enough to just provide the support available to help students to achieve but make sure that any stigma associated with these services are removed and approaching your tutor isn’t seen as ‘getting help’ but ‘getting on’.”

Full citation:

Wong, B., & Chiu, Y.L.T. (2019). ‘Swallow your pride and fear’: The Educational Strategies of High-Achieving Non-Traditional University Students. British Journal of Sociology of Education.

*** Reposted with permission from University of Reading***