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Invisible Backpacks: Reimagining Cultural Capital, Community, and College Readiness Open Access

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Students of color and those who are low-income and/or the first in their family to attend college are generally as likely as their peers from other racial and socioeconomic groups to aspire to earn a college degree. These student populations, however, remain underrepresented in college enrollment and graduation. Part of the incongruence between these students’ college aspirations and the realization of their educational goals may lie in the disparity between the nontraditional forms of cultural capital they recognize and utilize and the more traditional forms of cultural capital that are valued in higher education. To bridge this gap, higher education institutions have largely provided support for these “at-risk” students in their journey to successfully transition to college based on a grand narrative in which the students are portrayed as “unprepared” and “culturally disadvantaged.” Offering an alternative to this deficit perspective, this study challenges educators and educational systems to recognize and legitimize the expertise, power, knowledge, and cultural experiences that these students carry in their invisible backpacks. The study highlights the power of and within family, community, and culture, and concludes by urging a reimagining of these inheritances as pathways to educational success, empowerment, and social justice.

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