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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Tag: Hillbilly Elegy

“Bizarre” World: The Impact of Higher Education on First-Generation Students

Every environment has its niche. Whether that be understanding how you (and your face) should respond to Mac Dre in the Bay Area, the importance of the question What part? whenever someone claims they are from Chicago but actually mean the Chicagoland Area (I’m looking at you, Evanston), or even the way that UW-Madison has changed the way that you, a student, experience the words bag, bagel, or vague as they fall from the mouths of your Upper-Midwestern peers.

“I had learned much about law at Yale. But I’d also learned that this new world would always seem a bit foreign to me.” — J.D. Vance

Institutions of higher education can provide an opportunity to interact and learn with folks through individualized, unique perspectives. However, when a campus or institution is grounded within homogeneous cultures and people, any person whose identities counter this homogeneity finds that their experience in the realm of higher education becomes a starkly different experience than that of their peers. First-generation college students, much like J.D. Vance, are well aware of the “bizarre social rituals” (Vance 202) that are embedded into the fabric of higher education deeper than the patchwork of a college apparel crew-neck. In Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, Vance explains, “I had learned much about law at Yale. But I’d also learned that this new world would always seem a bit foreign to me” (Vance 234).

According to a Quartz article from 2015, first-generation students also tend to experience significant psychological ramifications within the world of higher education. Despite roughly 20% of all undergraduate students attending a four year public or private college or university being considered first-generation students, the disconnect between the student, the family, and the institution still remains. First-gen students often experience a sense of guilt in their ability to pursue the education and opportunities that others in their family were unable to follow, a phenomena called “breakaway guilt.” These factors of psychological stress are further heightened through the reality that first-generation students are more likely, about 50%, to be low-income students, and are also more likely to be “a member of a racial or ethnic minority group.”

(Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

Understandably, first-generation students have varying experiences. However, there are “four distinct domains” of difficulty for folks who fall into this category: professional, financial, psychological, and academic. First-generation students are important in the world of higher education, and the acknowledgement of this sector of students within these institutions is also vital. As Vance mentions in Hillbilly Elegy, the experience of a first-generation student is often rooted in the hyper-self-awareness of social factors and expectations that are carried along with them from the first day of class straight through to graduation.

“Sometimes it’s easier knowing that the statistics suggest I should be in jail or fathering my fourth illegitimate child. And sometimes it’s harder — conflict and family breakdowns seems like the destiny I can’t possibly escape.”
—J.D. Vance

Tackling Childhood Trauma

“‘This is not a poverty problem. This is not a race problem. This is a function of human biology.'”

In an NPR interview with Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, who gave a TED Talk on Adverse Childhood Experiences in 2014, Burke Harris dove deeper into what childhood trauma does to a young child’s body and how she recommends healing its negative effects.

In her new bookThe Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity, Burke Harris describes the ways in which childhood trauma can change one’s physical health for the remainder of their life.

“It can tip a child’s developmental trajectory and affect physiology. It can trigger chronic inflammation and hormonal changes that can last a lifetime. It can alter the way DNA is read and how cells replicate, and it can dramatically increase the risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes — even Alzheimer’s.”

In the NPR interview, Burke Harris compared toxic stress created from childhood trauma to an interaction with a deadly bear. First, an individual feels a sense of adrenaline, and then his/her brain regulates executive functioning on how to logically handle the situation. One’s immune system is also affected because it is preparing for a potentially dangerous situation where harm to one’s body may occur.

She notes that if this reaction happens once in awhile, maybe if you ran into a bear, then it is okay. However, what is happening with adverse childhood experiences is that this happens way too frequently and is permanently affecting their health.

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris giving her Ted Talk. CC Image Courtesy of the Nadine Burke Harris website.

In relation to children who grew up in poverty, toxic stress can be seen more frequently.

“‘What we see is that poverty itself may have a very significant impact on, first, kids being exposed to adversity, and second, the probability that the kids who are exposed will go on to develop toxic stress, because of the impact of the stress of poverty on their caregiver,'” Burke Harris explained.

In Hillbilly Elegy, Vance reflected on the stresses he faced as a child growing up in a poor household and how his family has been affected by these same toxic patterns as well.

“For many kids, the first impulse is escape, but people who lurch toward the exit rarely choose the right door. This is how my aunt found herself married at sixteen to an abusive husband. It’s how my mom, the salutatorian of her high school class, had both a baby and divorce, but not a single college credit under her belt before her teenage years were over… For me, understanding my past and knowing that I wasn’t doomed gave me the hope and fortitude to deal with the emotions of my youth” (229).

J.D. Vance and his half-sister, Lindsay, growing up in Ohio. CC Image Courtesy of the J.D. Vance website.

Burke Harris also stressed the importance of health clinics diagnosing adverse childhood experiences and effectively treating them. She created the Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco. Her goal is that pediatricians are doing routine screenings for these adverse experiences since early intervention makes a drastic difference.

In a school environment, some of the clearest signs of children experiencing toxic stress are difficulties with impulse control and with self-regulation, and trouble with attention. The symptoms are very similar to those of ADHD. However, it is difficult for educators to tackle the problem without enough resources to use for students in need.

She concluded the interview with suggestions on how to tackle such a monstrous and complex problem.

“‘…Schools you need help! Doctors offices, you’re part of the solution! You know, if you’re in early childhood, you’re part of the solution. If you’re in juvenile justice, you’re part of the solution. We all need to be part of the solution. If we each take off our little piece, it’s nuts how far we’ll be able to go, together as a society, in terms of solving this problem.'”

A Helpful Guide for Hillbilly Elegy

Welcome back Badgers! While we are easing our minds back into “school mode,” it’s also the perfect time to integrate Hillbilly Elegy into your Spring course!

Welcome back Badgers! Now it’s time to think about integrating Hillbilly Elegy into your course. (Photo by Jeff Miller / UW-Madison)

Hillbilly Elegy contains many themes that are relevant to various kinds of courses here at UW-Madison, and these complex and relevant themes hold the potential for great discussion within each course. A list of themes with page references has been posted on the Go Big Read resources page to assist course understanding and discussion of the book.

To help out instructors, the Go Big Read team has created a Book Discussion Toolkit. Within the Book Discussion Toolkit are Hillbilly Elegy discussion questions, book discussion guidelines for facilitators and participants, planning a book discussion, a program goals handout, and general book information. This toolkit will help spark conversation and how to go about covering some potentially sensitive or difficult topics.

HarperCollins has generously also provided a teacher’s guide for Hillbilly Elegy. The guide contains guided reading questions for each chapter and potential writing prompts.

A list of reviews, interviews, and related books has been created by Madison Public Library and is also listed under our Resources page for potential discussions and other sources to use within conversations surrounding Hillbilly Elegy. 

Go Big Read has created a Resource page to help with Hillbilly Elegy understanding and discussions.

If you are thinking about integrating Hillbilly Elegy into your course or are looking for further resources while reading the book, this resource page is here to help you!

 

 

Integrate Hillbilly Elegy into your Spring Course!

I know what you’re thinking… Winter break is just about to begin, so why are we mentioning Spring semester already?

Believe it or not, Spring semester is approaching fast! If you’ve been busy thinking about the holidays or planning your winter vacation, take a quick second and sign up to integrate “Hillbilly Elegy” into your Spring course!

Integrate “Hillbilly Elegy” into your Spring course today! CC Image Courtesy of Jeff Miller.

With themes like gender roles, poverty, childhood trauma, stress and health, globalization, and many more, “Hillbilly Elegy” tackles a lot of relevant topics that are discussed in various courses here at UW-Madison.

Critical reading and engagement are necessary to explore the author’s themes, explore points/research discussed, and reflect. We expect lively discussion, debate, and further research to be possibilities within courses. It is a book to help ground a discussion on many difficult contemporary issues.

It’s never to early to get the ball rolling! Sign up on the Go Big Read site today.

We wish you the happiest of holidays!

The Opioid Epidemic Hits Close to Home

We’ve discussed the opioid epidemic several times- whether it be on a national level, looking more closely at Hillbilly Elegy, or hearing more about it at the Keynote Event last month.

The opioid epidemic has also caught the attention of Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker, but there has been another group in the Madison area that has been focusing on this problem for years.

The opioid epidemic has been affecting the Madison community. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

In a recent article following the progress of this group, it revealed that Safe Communities recognized this detrimental problem in Wisconsin as early as five years ago. They have increased the number of MedDrop boxes in the past several years, which has shown to be a huge help in recovering old medication.

Safe Communities also helped launch the recovery coach program and are hoping to expand it outside of SSM Health’s St. Mary’s.

Safe Communities is located right in the Madison area. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

“They know about the pain and they know sort of how low people can feel and then, how hopeful they can be,” Cheryl Wittke, Safe Communities executive director, noted. “Having that message has made a big difference and we’ve seen 90 percent of folks who are going through that process sign up for treatment.”

While a lot has been accomplished to recognize there is a problem, Wittke believes there is a lot that still needs to be done.

“There’s a lot more to be done and things are not good. We’re not seeing a reduction in overdose deaths currently. I guess maybe the good news is we’ve seen a slowing in the rate of increase,” Wittke said.

There was a Stop the Overdose Summit on November 6th that created a to-do list and new goals for the upcoming months.

To learn more about how to combat the opioid epidemic in Madison, feel free to check out the Safe Communities website.

A Potential Solution for Multi-generational Poverty

Multi-generational poverty has proven to be a tough cycle to break. In a recent Washington Post article, it follows a Maryland County and their effort to end this multi-generational poverty. Maryland lawmakers proposed a new approach: integrate services such as early childhood development, temporary cash assistance and mental health programming.

This new approach looks at the needs of a family as a whole, rather than viewing children and parents separately. Legislators are calling this a two-generational approach.

“This is a process for working toward benefiting whole families,” Sarah Haight, the associate director of Ascend at the Aspen Institute, said Tuesday.

A preview of the interactive map. Image Courtesy of the New York Times website.

The issue of multi-generational poverty was a significant theme in this year’s Go Big Read selection, Hillbilly Elegy. Vance chronicles the struggles of growing up in a poor neighborhood in Appalachia, and how it is difficult to move out of this cycle.

“And it is in Greater Appalachia where the fortunes of working-class whites seem to be dimmest. From low social mobility to poverty to divorce and drug addiction, my home is a hub of misery” (4).

J.D. Vance and his half-sister, Lindsay, growing up in Ohio. CC Image Courtesy of the J.D. Vance website.

Like Vance’s neighborhood, many of the families in Maryland grow up in poverty. “Recent census data shows that the number of Maryland children living in poverty would fill 2,434 school buses,” explained Nicholette Smith-Bligen, an executive director of family investment within the Maryland Department of Human Services. “That’s saying to us that this program (the two-generation approach) is critical.”

Allegany County, in a rural area of Western Maryland, is where 20 percent of the state’s population lives in poverty. The county has begun to view their local system with this new two-generation approach. Many departments in the county have collaborated with each other to create a Head Start center, GED classes and financial education programs.

This opportunity allows families to have a plan with services to use as an outlet.

Multi-generational poverty is a monstrous problem in the United States, and it has proven to be difficult to diminish. However, if this new two-generation approach proves to be continuously successful, other states may follow in Maryland’s footsteps.

Childhood Trauma and its Potentially Detrimental Effects

“‘Chaotic — there is no other way to describe my childhood. I always felt alone.’”

Rob Sullivan, now an adult, still remembers the traumatic events from his childhood that impact him every day. In an interview with the New York Times, Sullivan discusses how the trauma in his life as a child has led him to hardships in his adulthood.

Running into trouble with the law as an adult, Sullivan believes that he is responsible for making bad decisions in his own life, although experts claim that this troubling path may begin long before the individual recognizes it.

What happens to a child in their youth can affect their decisions as an adult- whether that be ending up in prison or even their overall cognitive functioning.

“’Childhood trauma is a huge factor within the criminal justice system,’” said Christopher Wildeman, a sociologist at Cornell University and co-director of the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect. “’It is among the most important things that shapes addictive and criminal behavior in adulthood.’”

As seen in Hillbilly Elegy, author J.D. Vance describes traumatic events of his own childhood that still affect him and his relationships today.

“In my worst moments, I convince myself that there is no exit, and no matter how much I fight old demons, they are as much an inheritance as my blue eyes or brown hair” (230).

Author J.D. Vance pictured with his grandmother. CC Image Courtesy of the J.D. Vance website.

Childhood trauma affects everyone differently, but for both Sullivan and Vance, the troubling memories from their childhood do not fade away with age.

Both Sullivan and Vance completed questionnaires that measured the degree of childhood trauma, criteria including physical and verbal abuse, abandonment, and several others, and the two of them scored relatively high.

In Sullivan’s case, there have been many connections to those in prison and their experiences with childhood trauma.

New York Times study followed 10 newly released prisoners in Connecticut for a year, Sullivan being one of them. A look at their histories demonstrated that before they were prisoners, many of them were victims of abuse.

Seven of those 10 completed a questionnaire to quantify the level of childhood trauma they experienced, and all but one scored four or more, indicating a high degree of trauma and an elevated risk for chronic diseases, depression, substance abuse, and violence.

Although traumatic childhood experiences affect individuals differently throughout their lifetime, most adults remember many of the traumatic events they experienced. For Sullivan, he has run into trouble following some patterns of previous family members, such as substance abuse and prison. Although it is a grueling process, he hopes to turn his life around for the better.

Child trauma affects the lives of many adults today. CC Image Courtesy of Pixabay.

“’I have never followed through on anything in my life,’” he said, tears in his eyes. “’It’s hard. I know if I end up back in the streets I will end up drinking and using again.’”

Undoubtedly, childhood trauma has been scientifically proven to affect individuals in their adult years. It will be interesting to see what kind of continued discoveries we will read about childhood trauma moving forward and possible solutions for this serious issue.

Go Big Read Book Fairy Giveaway

Keep your eyes peeled around campus these next couple of weeks- the Go Big Read team will be giving away a limited number of copies of Hillbilly Elegy!

Copies of Hillbilly Elegy will be left around the Madison area, especially places on campus that have shown the Go Big Read Program support. There are only a limited number of copies available, so follow our social media (@GoBigRead or Go Big Read on Facebook) to keep up with clues as to where we have left them!

Look for this Go Big Read tag… if you found one, you’re in luck!

The books will be wrapped in red and white ribbon (always representing UW-Madison colors, of course), and will be attached with a Go Big Read tag. If you’ve found one of these, you’re in luck! The book is yours to keep.

Starting next week, Go Big Read team members will start to leave copies of Hillbilly Elegy around campus. Keep your eyes peeled for clues!

We were inspired by the lovely Emma Watson and her book fairy project several months ago in support of International Women’s Day.

Emma Watson hand delivered books to special places. We’re about to follow in her footsteps! CC Image Courtesy of Emma Watson’s Twitter page.

With a limited amount of books to spare, the Go Big Read team wanted to give them away in a fun way. What’s better than stumbling upon a free copy of Hillbilly Elegy after a long walk up Bascom? It could be you!

Stay tuned to hear more, and keep an eye out on our social media for clues about where the books will be! It all starts next week!

 

Capitol Lakes’ Captivating Hillbilly Elegy Exhibit

The Go Big Read team was extremely grateful to have residents of Capitol Lakes contribute a Hillbilly Elegy exhibit. We couldn’t have done it any better ourselves!

The exhibit was shown outside the doors to Shannon Hall last Monday.

Although the exhibit mainly focused on the present Go Big Read book, Hillbilly Elegy, past Go Big Read picks were displayed in the exhibit as well. They can be seen at the bottom of the display, including old promotional posters for several of the books. It’s exciting to see the transformation from year to year!

A close up of the exhibit. This part shown mainly focuses on Hillbilly Elegy themes and details.

Certain aspects of the exhibit, like the image shown above, give clues into themes and details present in Hillbilly Elegy. Mountain Dew, law texts, a war veteran hat, and a map of Middletown, Ohio, are all shown to represent parts of J.D. Vance’s life. Want to know more about these items? The Capitol Lakes exhibit states that you’ll have to read the book in order to find out!

Capitol Lakes offers information on other various Hillbilly Elegy discussions nearby.

The display also offers helpful information on other various Hillbilly Elegy discussions around the Madison area and where an individual can obtain their own copy of Hillbilly Elegy if interested.

The exhibit provided lots of helpful and interesting information about the Go Big Read program and Hillbilly Elegy. A big thank you once again to the residents of Capitol Lakes! We greatly appreciate it.

Hillbilly Elegy Panelist Keynote Event Recap

On Monday night, Professors Kathy Cramer, Katherine Magnuson, and Aleksandra Zgierska took to the stage to discuss political, social, and health issues present in Hillbilly Elegy. 

Professor Kathy Cramer, speaking first, noted that this book has raised questions for its possible connection to the 2016 presidential election. However, Cramer hinted towards approaching that perspective with caution.

“It’s become a little bit of a myth that the white working class was responsible for the election of Trump,” Cramer said. “We need to be careful about jumping from this book to assumptions about Donald Trump supporters.”

Professor Kathy Cramer. Image Courtesy of the UW-Madison Faculty website.

Professor Katherine Magnuson followed Cramer’s remarks with a discussion on poverty, especially between generations in rural areas. A map was displayed on her presentation that illustrated how difficult it was for families in different areas to overcome inter-generational poverty.

She mentioned that of those born into the bottom 20 percent of wealth within the United States, only a mere 4 percent make it to the top percentage of wealthy Americans within their lifetime- a concerning statistic.

A preview of the interactive map. Image Courtesy of the New York Times website.

Last to speak about a very highly anticipated topic was Professor Aleksandra Zgierska. She tackled the stigma around drug addiction and the impact that opioids have on Americans today.

She worries that with the increasing numbers of overdoses increasing so rapidly, the problem is going to have to hit an all time low before it starts to get better. However, she still remains hopeful in breaking the stigma around addiction and getting individuals the help that they need.

“There’s a lot we need to do to break the stigma of addiction, to break the misconceptions that exist out there, so that we can help people reach out for help and get the help they need,” Zgierska said.

The event closed with a Q&A session between panelists and audience members. Although brief, questions included those of successful immigration into the US, tips for combating opioid addiction, and if placing “blame” for issues within the political system is a beneficial tactic.

A huge thank you to the panelists who participated in the event and everyone who joined to discuss Hillbilly Elegy. The Go Big Read team enjoyed seeing so many people expressing their interest in Hillbilly Elegy and wanting to discuss these topics with the Madison community.

The recorded video will be posted to the Go Big Read website shortly.

Until next year!