Hold Fast to Dreams

Higher education is often seen as a potential silver bullet for breaking cycles of poverty in the US, yet research continually finds that low-income students face perversely daunting barriers to attending college and completing degrees. This has been true for generations and many know it to be true now, but much conversation and scholarship on this issue has de-emphasized personal narratives of affected students, removing individual contexts from the development of solutions to the issues of college access and college success for low-income and first-generation students. Beth Zasloff and Joshua Steckel bring student stories to the forefront in their book Hold Fast to Dreams. Rooted in Steckel’s work as a college counselor at a Brooklyn public high school, the book is composed of interwoven narratives of ten students’ admissions and college experiences.

On Thursday 5/7/2015, the library hosted a book talk by the authors of Hold Fast to Dreams and four of their students, Abigail Benavente, Nkese Rankine, Jen Chen, and Jose Herrera. Mr. Steckel and Ms. Zasloff spoke briefly about their work in putting together the book and read a passage from it, then focused the bulk of discussion on Abby, Nkese, Jen, and Jose’s experiences. They spoke as a conversational panel, using a question-and-answer format to bring out stories of application experiences and post-secondary lives. They showed, through their stories, a wide panoply of challenges that first-generation and low-income students face, often recognizing the importance of institutional and large-scale college access initiatives like the DREAM.us scholarship, but also implicitly showing their shortfalls.

I was struck by many facets of the experiences that the 6 speakers covered; in conversing with each other, they spoke about multiple issues at once, providing a complex view of how college and counseling experiences affected them. I continue to find food for thought in many of the experiences that they brought up, including: the bureaucratic difficulties of enrolling as an undocumented student; balancing family responsibilities with academic work under “traditional student” expectations; racial micro-aggressions stemming from academic and cultural elitism; the potential effects of financial aid applications on family dynamics; and far more. There were many rich discussions, and I hope that you will contribute to them through the Vialogue above.