Professor of Comparative Media Studies and Writing
I’m from a white working-class family. My father graduated high school and was a machinist then house-painter then janitor/maintenance worker. My mom dropped out as a teenager but went back and finished as an adult after many odds and ends jobs. Though I was a good (if undirected) student when I was young, when I was 12½ my mom died and life kind of went off the rails.
Junior high and high school mostly became about hanging on, just enough. I got funneled to home ec. and stenography and working at the campus convenience store. I got sent out to the VA hospital to learn how to file. I never took the SAT.
The early elementary school kernel of being deemed “smart” (mostly just because I read books and tested okay) was ultimately quite fragile, lost as a variety of other structural factors came to the foreground. I didn’t know how to think, talk, or ask about my future. I graduated, moved out, and got a job as a graveyard waitress at Denny’s.
It was only after an older woman I respected told me I should try and “do something with my life” that I ended up seeing what my local community college, Chaffey (in Rancho Cucamonga, California), could offer. I figured I could take a class or two during the day while I worked at night.
Community college became one of the most important experiences of my life. Though I kept waitressing full time to make ends meet, that shot at college changed my path. The community college system in California gave people like me another chance at education. Not only did I get encouragement and praise for my inquisitive nature, I got exposed to topics I’d never encountered before (for example, sociology, the field I went on to specialize in). I got health care through the medical office on campus. I got small subsidies to buy my books.
I got the kind of mentorship that happens when you run into a professor in the corridor and the following conversation occurs: “Are you applying to Cal?” “Yeah, Cal State Fullerton.” “No, Cal. UC Berkeley.” “What is that?” …and the explanation and advice that follows. I eventually ended up at UCB thanks to the state system of intentionally creating transfer paths for students like myself and keeping it affordable.
In an era where online education is touted, my community college experience remains for me a powerful reminder of how important our everyday face-to-face connections and the support structures that touch many aspects of our lives can be (from educational to medical to financial).
(This bio was adapted from a longer post you can read at http://tltaylor.com/2015/08/in-through-the-back-door/.)