Abstract: The Echoes of Childhood Poverty: Composing Lives in Higher Education

this narrative inquiry unfolded alongside three undergraduate students at a large, research-intensive, western Canadian university to understand how echoes of systemic childhood poverty reverberate through their experiences as they compose lives on the university landscape. While countries such as Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, and to a much lesser extent Canada, are adopting “widening access” and equity, diversity, and inclusivity (EDI) policies, researchers often ignore the very poor, instead focusing on the experiences of working-class students (Ivana, 2017; Lehman, 2013). Research that does exist assumes a uniform effect of poverty and uniform experiences on higher educational (HE) landscapes (Aries & Seider, 2005; Krause & Armitage, 2014), which reduces students’ lives to a single story (Adichie, 2009). The varied needs of students whose lives have been shaped by systemic childhood poverty are not being adequately addressed or reflected in current educational policies (Nesbit, 2006).

i engaged in in-depth research conversations with three undergraduate participants over a nine-month period, seeking to understand their lived experiences narratively; that is, over time, social relations, and place (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000).

the inquiry makes visible how profoundly silenced students’ lived experiences are on the university landscape and within “widening access” and “widening participation” to HE initiatives. Administrators’, advisors’, and professors’ belief in participants (Elbow, 2008) was a game changer and crucial for their survival in university. Second, while poverty is seen in a box, systemic childhood poverty cannot be erased from participants’ embodied selves; that is, childhood poverty shapes an entire life (Adair, 2003). Third, participation in this research was an act of resistance to living in the shadows and margins of HE landscapes because of a fear being outed and ousted if their origins become visible. As HE institutions continue to grapple with “widening access” and creating sustainable EDI landscapes, poverty-class students must become a key source of knowledge in shaping socially just policies and pedagogies. These students need to become part of the discussion rather the object of discussion (Adair, 2003).

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