MLK Convocation Examines Access and Inclusion

Loomis Chaffee welcomed Anthony Abraham Jack, author of The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students, to the Island on Monday, January 17, marking the start of the school’s annual series of events honoring Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy. 

Speaking from the Hubbard Performance Hall, Mr. Jack discussed his professional research into the experiences of lower-income, first-generation college students, a subject he also understands from a personal perspective, and he encouraged the Loomis community to continue ongoing conversations about access and inclusion. He said he hoped “this talk is one of many conversations about the numerous responsibilities that diversity demands of all of us.”  

Professor Jack, a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows and an assistant professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, researches the overlooked diversity among lower-income undergraduates: the “Doubly Disadvantaged,” those who enter college from local, typically distressed high schools and the “Privileged Poor,” those who do so from boarding, day, and preparatory high schools. 

Professor Jack explained his research from both a statistical and a cultural standpoint. “Although more than one out of every two students in college today are first-generation college students, only 14 percent of those students at competitive colleges come from the bottom half of the income distribution,” he said. At the 38 highly selective colleges and universities in the United States, he said, there are more students from families among the top 1 percent of income earners than there are students from families in the bottom 60 percent of income earners.  

Mr. Jack’s research delves into the expectations faced by lower-income students entering colleges and universities. Because they had vastly different high school experiences than many of their college peers, these students often struggle to make the connections and build the relationships with professors and classmates that provide the foundation for future success.  

Seniors Pilar Wingle and Ryan Fortani, co-vice presidents of the Student Council,  also spoke at the convocation before Mr. Jack’s address. In their remarks, Pilar and Ryan emphasized an increase in diversity on the Loomis Chaffee Student Council while acknowledging that there is still work to be done.  

“Having Student Council representatives with multi-faceted and under-represented identities has allowed us to empower different perspectives during council discussions, incorporate innovative ideas into task group brainstorming sessions, and capitalize on a variety of different avenues to find solutions to student body issues,” Pilar said.  

“If we want to discuss change during MLK Day, during nationwide protests, or during times of remembrance, we need to find a way to teach students how to convey their thoughts and their beliefs that lead others toward internal reflection rather than external aggression,” Ryan added.  

In her introduction of Mr. Jack, Ashley Augustin, the school’s director of diversity, equity & inclusion, urged students to dig deep and ask themselves difficult questions that haven’t been asked before. “Let’s use this moment with Professor Jack to learn and challenge the way we see things,” she said. By doing so, Loomis Chaffee both honors the memory of Dr. King and considers how to move forward for the betterment of the school community and as a model for others, she added.