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Single Mothers in College Lecture

Although there has been a good deal of attention to the marginalization of single mothers in American society, there has been relatively little attention to the experiences of single mothers who attend college. These women tend to regard pursuit of a college degree as an extension of their mothering work, something they do to set a good example for their children and also to help move their families toward a middle-class lifestyle. They also pursue postsecondary education as a means of demonstrating to themselves and to others that they are “good” mothers. Yet within the context of postsecondary institutions, single mothers face a challenge that is unique: a “chilly climate” that stigmatizes them and treats them as outsiders, thereby threatening their ability to successfully complete a college degree. Drawing on data collected during an eight-year ethnographic study that included the experiences of nearly 100 women, this presentation details the “chilly climate” facing single mothers who are college students. It attends to both the obvious and the subtle aspects of the “chilly climate,” including the actions and attitudes of faculty, staff, and students as well as formal and informal institutional policies.

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