Forced Migrant Women Confront Institutional Constraints in a Community College


This dissertation examines how the formal schooling trajectories of forced migrant women from Africa and the Middle East are shaped by the ongoing confrontation of the women with the policies and practices of the community college they attend. It is based on ethnographic fieldwork done at a community college in the largest metropolitan area in the otherwise predominantly rural state of Maine. This work is motivated by an interest in the validity of the rhetoric of community college as the vehicle for upward social mobility for marginalized populations. The students in the study are constructed as various types of minorities: linguistic, racial, religious, national, depending on the bureaucratic, social or schooling context. Because of the ideology of equal opportunity, often the only documentation by the community college of minority status is their language status that is recognized in the standardized entrance exam. Racial and national origin information is voluntary and commonly left blank on official forms, but, along with religion, are made meaningful both in and outside of the classroom through interactions with white peers and teachers. Forced migrant students experience this construction of otherness, and react through the formation of social support networks made up exclusively of forced migrants where they teach each other ways of adaption and resistance. Because of the conditions that led to their flight, forced migrants have survived traumatic situations, face language barriers and may have interrupted formal schooling, as well as retain familial obligations around the globe that present unique challenges. The community college does not fully recognize these challenges, and maintains a narrow standard that is upheld through teaching practices and the use of standardized exams, which serve to marginalize forced migrant students. This marginalization translates into low graduation rates for forced migrants, effectively blocking any upward social mobility to be gained from the community college

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