Naturalizing Inequality: How Neoliberal Higher Education Engineers Elitism
College of Arts and Sciences
Department of Sociology
Dr. Arthur Scarritt
How has the public institution of higher education in America, which is touted as being a benefit to the larger society, further increasing social inequalities that disproportionately benefit elite economic interests? Our data from over 200 interviews with undergraduate students shows that the scarcity-driven neoliberal market ideology causes them to justify the hierarchical power structure that holds affluent white men at the top. This naturalizes the imbalance that leads to the rampant disadvantaging of low-income students, female students, and students of color. The tokenistic inclusion of women in male-dominated disciplines permits students to deny the necessity of university interventions, such as specific classes on gender and race, gender- and race-based scholarships and resources, and universal education. Students’ unwitting glorification of engineering disciplines causes them to increasingly accept masculine dominance and the fetishization of technical knowledge. Furthermore, this devalues cultural knowledge by reifying the notion that the perceived economic return of their credential is worth more than the education itself. This leads students to construct racism as overt individual instances and/or a thing of the past. Students believe that any more of a push for racial inclusion would be “forcing” diversity thereby maintaining systemic racism within neoliberal higher education.
Fretwell, Michelle and Cates, Jeff, "Naturalizing Inequality: How Neoliberal Higher Education Engineers Elitism" (2019). 2019 Undergraduate Research and Scholarship Conference. 46.