Harvard's Anthony Jack To Deliver Loeschner Leadership Lecture

Harvard's Anthony Jack To Deliver Loeschner Leadership Lecture

Anthony JackAnthony Abraham Jack

Anthony Abraham Jack, author of The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students, will be speaking on campus culture and inequity in education as part of Northwestern University’s Nancy and Ray Loeschner Leadership Series.

Jack also will share his own experiences as a first-generation college student during the community conversation at 7 p.m., followed by a reception and book signing at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 23 at Alice Millar Chapel, 1870 Sheridan Road in Evanston. The talk, co-sponsored by the Family Action Network (FAN), is free and seating is on a first-come, first-served basis, but reservations are requested.  

In a related event, the School of Education and Social Policy is hosting a brown bag book discussion on The Privileged Poor at 11:30 a.m. Friday, Nov. 1 in Annenberg G02. RSVP for the book discussion here.

Jack, assistant professor of education at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, documents the overlooked diversity among lower-income undergraduates, which he calls the Doubly Disadvantaged—those who enter college from local, typically distressed public high schools—and Privileged Poor—those who do so from boarding, day, and preparatory high schools.

"The Privileged Poor know what life is like below the poverty line,” he wrote. “They also know how the 1 percent learn and live. The Doubly Disadvantaged only know the former.”

Ignoring the divergent experiences between these two groups has been a mistake, he argued and continuing to do so “limits our understanding of the ways in which poverty and inequality shape the lives of today’s undergraduates.”

Drawing on two years of interviews with more than 100 undergraduates at one of America’s most famous colleges and on his own experiences as one of the Privileged Poor, Jack shows how powerfully background affects poor students’ chances of success.

“All too often, university communities do not have as robust conversations about social class as they do about gender and race,” he wrote in The Privileged Poor.

A Miami native, Jack received a scholarship to attend Gulliver Preparatory School, an elite private high school in South Florida. He received degrees from Amherst College and Harvard University.

As a scholarship student at Amherst, Jack lacked money to return home on spring break like many of his peers. He planned for “hungry days” or days when the campus cafeterias were closed and worked extra shifts as a gym monitor to help cover the unavoidable costs of staying on campus during breaks.

“We like to think that landing a coveted college spot is a golden ticket for students from disadvantaged backgrounds,” he wrote in a recent essay in The New York Times Magazine. “We think less critically about what happens next. I lived this gap as a first-generation college student. And I returned to it as a first-generation graduate student.”

Jack’s research found that students from low-income families often had to learn and decode a whole new set of cues and terms like professors’ “office hours” (many didn’t know what they were or how to use them), and foreign rituals like being invited to get coffee with an instructor (and not knowing whether they were expected to pay.)

“All those moments between convocation and commencement where college life is actually lived,” he wrote. “Admission alone, as it turns out, is not the great equalizer. Just walking through the campus gates unavoidably heightens these students’ awareness and experience of the deep inequalities around them.”

The Privileged Poor is currently the best-selling sociology book, according to Amazon rankings.  It received the Mildred Garcia Award for Exemplary Scholarship from the Association for the Study of Higher Education, was named the 2019 Critics’ Choice Book Award by the American Educational Studies Association, and received the Thomas J. Wilson Memorial Prize.

“Jack’s investigation redirects attention from the matter of access to the matter of inclusion,” Eren Orbey wrote in The New Yorker. “Rather than parse the spurious meritocracy of admissions, his book challenges universities to support the diversity they indulge in advertising.”

The Washington Post said his book “breaks new ground on social and educational questions of great import.” And Paul Tough, author of The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us, called it three books in one: “an engrossing personal memoir, a collection of rigorous scholarship, and a powerful manifesto for a new movement to improve the lives of low-income students at elite universities.”

Jack is currently a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows and the Shutzer Assistant Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

His scholarship appears in the Du Bois Review, Sociological Forum, and Sociology of Education and has earned awards from the American Sociological Association, Eastern Sociological Society, and the Society for the Study of Social Problems.

Jack has held fellowships from the Ford Foundation and the National Science Foundation and was a 2015 National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellow. The National Center for Institutional Diversity at the University of Michigan named him a 2016 Emerging Diversity Scholar. 

Loeschner Lecture attracts leaders from all fields

Jack is the seventh speaker in the Loeschner Leadership series, which began in 2013 and presents visionary trailblazers in education and other fields.

Previous speakers include Mary Daly,  president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco; Eve Ewing, a writer and sociologist of education at the University of Chicago; alumnus Chuck Friedman, corporate vice president of Microsoft Edge; Mischa Fisher, economist and data scientist; Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools; and Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America.

The lecture was established with a gift from SESP alumnus Ray Loeschner (MA57) of Grand Rapids, Michigan, the former president of Olivet University and a trailblazer in higher education. Loeschner also received his PhD from Northwestern in 1962 and served as an assistant football and track coach.

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 9/27/22