LEVELING (UP) THE PLAYING FIELD
Most undergraduates haven’t heard of the “hidden curriculum.” But for first-generation college students, it can color everything.
The “hidden curriculum” is the system of unwritten rules and expectations you might hear about if your parents went to college—taking advantage of office hours, pursuing internships, shadowing professionals in your desired field. In other words, inherited information to give you a leg up.
“That makes certain students feel less-than and othered for not knowing,” says ANTHONY ABRAHAM JACK, an acclaimed higher-education researcher and author of The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students (Harvard University Press, 2019).
Jack was appointed in July 2023 as the inaugural faculty director of Boston University’s NEWBURY CENTER, a resource for first-generation students, and as associate professor of higher education leadership at BU’s Wheelock College of Education & Human Development. His arrival promises to help level the playing field for first-gen students and elevate it for all students.
“I study education, but I’m fundamentally interested in how inequality and poverty shape young people’s life chances,” Jack says. “I study universities because I believe that they are, quite frankly, the greatest shot at creating mobility and a more equal society.”
Jack envisions expanding the Newbury Center into a research hub on the experience of first-generation students as well as on inequality in higher education. “When you address the inequalities that disproportionately fall upon the shoulders of first-generation and low-income college students, you make the University better for all students.”
The Newbury Center, which opened in 2021, offers students who work there the opportunity to lead and be of service to the first-gen community and beyond. Take KATARINA “KAT” QUACH (COM’24), an undergrad assistant who organizes workshops, manages the newsletter, and serves as coeditor in chief of the center’s Elevate magazine. Her commitment to public service has earned her one of the inaugural Obama Foundation’s Voyager Scholarships, which provide financial support and accommodations for summer travel.
“All of the staff at the Newbury Center are first-gen or were first-gen students,” says Quach. “It allows us to create community amongst ourselves as a staff and, in doing so, to create an even more welcoming place for students.”
As a self-described “forever first-gen” student, Jack says, “I lived the experiences that the people whom I learn from are going through. My life goal is not just to address problems in higher ed. I intend to use my research to provide a framework for universities to live up to the missions they love to put in Latin on their seals and diplomas.”