Newsletter: April 3, 2018

Book Review: When Grit Isn’t Enough

If you’re a college student, when is grit not enough? When you’re not a white student in the middle-to-upper class. Linda Nathan, founding headmaster of the Boston Arts Academy, tracks some of her talented high school graduates who needed grit and a whole lot more. She concludes that perseverance and hard work alone can’t overcome the obstacles imposed by poverty, daily microaggressions, stereotype threat, and lack of cultural capital necessary to navigate the classrooms, dormitories, and administrative offices of predominantly white colleges.

The power of this book lies in the personal testimony of those high school graduates.

“My mother . . . didn’t understand that you have to do the FAFSA and the forms every year” (p. 20).

“My college is such a well-known school that it just assumes that every college student has the resources and means to navigate the system. But that’s just true. I didn’t” (p. 24).

“My friends from college . . . don’t have to worry about money as much as I do. They come from families where there is more financial support. But I had that scholarship [for students with a GPA of at least 2.8] and that was it. For a long time I thought I could go back . . . . But, you know, I began to feel that I didn’t belong there any more. Maybe I wasn’t smart enough for college” (p. 19).

“Sometimes I feel nervous about speaking up. I never felt like that in high school” (p. 56).

Some of Nathan’s students believed that they could graduate from college. They worked hard, found the necessary support, learned the ropes, overcame the obstacles, and achieved their dream. Many, however, withdrew with a few credits and a load of debt.

Nathan makes us wonder, what can we do to remove some of the obstacles that prevent them from persisting until graduation? She offers some suggestions, like fostering a growth mindset culture, taking anti-racism training, educating students about their social contexts, and maintaining transparency about our academic and administrative systems.

Many thanks to Ethnic Studies, the Faculty Committee on Diversity, Molly Thompson-VanderHayden, and Ashley Feagin for introducing us to this book: Linda Nathan, When Grit Isn’t Enough (Boston: Beacon Press, 2017).

Jocelyn McWhirter
Director, The Newell Center for Teaching and Learning
April 3, 2018



For When Grit Isn’t Enough:

“The Growing College Graduation Gap.” David Leonhardt (New York Times, March 25) reviews some statistics, comments on federal policy, and promises more articles to come.

“A Trip to the Grocery Store.” Joy DeGruy’s story illustrates the effects of stereotype threat and microaggressions as well as the difference that allies can make. From

“Why Student Loan Debt Harms Low-Income Students the Most.” What happens to low-income students who take out loans and then don’t (or do) graduate. By Maggie Thompson, for

“It’s Hard to Be Hungry on Spring Break.” Just one more example of how college wasn’t designed for students who can’t afford to go away for a week. By Anthony Abraham Jack, New York Times, March 17, 2018.


“Diversity in the Heartland.” Ric Sheffield (Kenyon College), who engages his students in learning about the diverse population of his own rural surroundings, announces a “Diversity in the Heartland” project in which he aims to engage students and faculty at other GLCA schools. Interested? Read the article; then respond to Ric.

“Oral History in the Liberal Arts.” Brooke Bryan (Antioch College) introduces us to the GLCA-supported Oral History in the Liberal Arts Project. To date, OHLA has sponsored 13 curricular projects (most of them courses) and 22 student research projects. 


News from The Newell CTL

Stockwell 305. The walls are painted, the carpet is laid, and the furniture is arranged. Still needed: books, pictures on the wall, and YOU! Stop by, try your ID card in the door, and set a spell!

Spring Coteries. We’re reading our books and concluding our meetings. Each of the next two CTL newsletters will begin with a review and additional resources related to one of the books.


Upcoming Conferences

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning with an Equity Mindset National Institute. August 6-10, 2018 at Rainbow Lodge in North Bend, Washington. “The aim is to develop our capacity to understand and improve student learning opportunities within all teaching contexts by using critically conscious, self-aware, and collaborative practices of inquiry, challenging inequities while recognizing the community cultural wealth of all students, and engaging in systematic scholarly investigation and analysis learning, Sponsored by The Washington Center at The Evergreen State College.

About Jocelyn McWhirter

Jocelyn McWhirter is the Stanley S. Kresge Professor of Religious Studies at Albion College in Albion, Michigan.
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