Equity, Education, and the American Dream

Equity, Education, and the American Dream

Ana Patterson

Do you remember reading a book in your youth that changed your perspective on life? As a young girl, one of those books for me was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. This novel is set in New York City during the early twentieth century and examines poverty, education and the American Dream.  The protagonist, Francie Nolan, is a young girl who yearns for an education that will change her circumstance in life. The Nolan family experiences severe poverty, inequitable schooling and discrimination. Francie is convinced that her life will change if she can go to a better school and her father agrees to use a fake address to enroll her at a school in a better neighborhood. She falls in love with reading and visits the library regularly. Francie’s favorite spot to read is on the fire escape where she notices a tree that has grown out of the cement sidewalk. This tree flourishes and grows. Despite attempts to cut it down and burn the stump, it lived, and nothing could destroy it.  

I recently read this book again and the symbolism of the tree resonated with me in a different way. In the book, education was the catalyst for growth through hardship. Education provided a way to move beyond the circumstances to which one was born. Education was the American Dream. Today, education continues to be a vital resource that can change lives and improve our community. However, access to equitable education remains a challenge for many.     

Southwestern Adventist University is proud to have been ranked #2 as a top performer on Social Mobility for Regional Colleges West by U.S. News and World Report. The social mobility ranking measures the success rates of institutions who enroll and graduate large proportions of disadvantaged students as measured by federal Pell Grant distributions. Beyond a ranking, social mobility closes the gap of inequity by providing resources, access and support for students to thrive. One example of SWAU’s success is that 32% of our 2021 graduating class identified as being the first in their family to graduate from college. That is a statistic to be proud of! 

We are uniquely positioned to serve students with high quality academics, a Christian atmosphere and unique support services. On our campus, students are more than a number. Classes are small enough to allow for individual attention from professors who strive to know students personally. Faculty are committed to the success of their students and offer assistance beyond the classroom. 

A Christian atmosphere means that our campus is a welcoming place for all students. The university experience can be challenging and stressful. On our campus, students find support from Christian counselors, chaplains and peers.

Services that support learning and career readiness result in higher levels of success. Our Pathways to Success program works with students by providing tutoring, career advising and internship opportunities. In the fall, they will be offering a Success Closet to provide professional clothing for students and community members. This is part of a career emphasis month that will include a career expo featuring internship, graduate school and entry level job opportunities. 

As a proponent of social mobility, our campus desires to support higher education in Johnson County through collaboration. In addition to recent partnerships with local ISD’s, we are excited to host the Upward Bound summer program on our campus in June. Johnson County high school students who are a part of this program will experience residence hall life in our dormitories. In addition, students will experience university-style classes in our classrooms and participate in recreational activities all preparing them for their future college experience. 

It is essential for social mobility to be a community cause because the outcomes have lasting positive effects on the future of Johnson County and beyond. Just like the tree that grew from a cement sidewalk, anyone can pursue opportunities that will lead them to succeed and thrive. Education continues to be a catalyst for change. Southwestern Adventist University is proud to play a role in advancing social mobility and providing equitable, quality higher education in a nurturing Christian environment.   

Ana Patterson serves as the interim president of Southwestern Adventist University.

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