This post is co-authored with Frank Harris III - Associate Professor, Postsecondary Education at San Diego State University.
As the new school year begins, many students are engaging the yearly challenge of balancing school and work. Working during college is a common experience; in fact, 60 percent of Black men and 65 percent of Latino men work while attending school at the same time. Working, in and of itself, can be beneficial for student success. In fact, research shows that students who work part-time have greater levels of success in college than those who do not work at all. Moreover, research from Wood, Hilton and Lewis on men of color has demonstrated that working can lead to greater levels of achievement when students have jobs that are connected to what they are learning in the classroom and is relevant to their career goals.
However, for some students, the types of work opportunities available to them and the relationship between what they study and their employment are not the same. For men of color, the daily reality on campus and in the workplace is one of struggle and marginalization. Men of color are often concentrated into "non-choice" jobs during college that inhibit their academic success. According to a forthcoming study to appear in the Journal of Men's Studies by Wood, Harrison and Jones, these jobs are typified by three critical characteristics that serve as barriers to their achievement.
1. Transitory - the never-ending cycle of jobs
Men of color are often concentrated in jobs that are transitional in nature. Transitional jobs are short-term in nature, lasting a few weeks to a few months at a time. These jobs provide a short-term financial benefit but require men to be constantly looking for new job opportunities in the face of pervasive unemployment. The transitional nature of these jobs means that these men are continuously learning new responsibilities, job cultures, and work politics. The unstable nature of this work means that many men of color are dealing with a never-ending cycle of transition out of class while trying to successfully navigate college cultures and politics as well.
2. Physically Demanding - jobs for men perceived as brutes
Stocking shelves, digging ditches, and moving boxes are some of the common jobs described by men of color during college. While choice employment may be hard for college students, opportunities for men of color are often limited to work roles that are physically demanding. For many men, these jobs have no connection to their long-term goals and merely represent the type of employment opportunities available to men who have historically occupied the working poor class.
3. Late-Night Shifts - the shifts that nobody else wants
Morning, day, and evening shifts are reported by men of color as being elusive. The need to provide for themselves and their families means that many men of color will take the jobs and shifts that others do not want. As a result, college men of color often report working late night shifts, ending in the early hours of the morning. For students who had morning classes, few hours of sleep (if any) were gained before rushing to school. These morning classes could represent the only offerings available of required courses. Compounded with the physically demanding nature of their work, these men of color reported being exhausted in class.
With jobs that are transitory, physically demanding, and take place late at night, men of color have work experiences during college that can be challenging. In tandem with class experiences that are often alienating and invalidating, college support systems for Black and Latino men must be reconsidered.
Please provide any suggestions you may have on how colleges can better provide support for men of color who work during college.
Follow J. Luke Wood on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jlukewood
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