senior essay smaldonado.pdf


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Higher education is an exclusive source of credentials and, in Bourdieu’s terms, cultural
capital. It can be a mechanism for social mobility for some, a mechanism of reinforcement of
class status for others. In light of the role higher education plays in maintaining the stratification
of society, I consider how Stepping Stone, in its promotion of college-bound trajectories for its
students, could effectively champion for social justice. I identify three main goals of the
Stepping Stone program that not only have direct benefits to the individual students, but also
have the potential to create a more socially just society. These goals include: family involvement
in the program, both to support the students and to allow the families to gain from the program;
development of the students’ leadership abilities; and setting students up to be able to decide
among several choices as they make life transitions. Each goal speaks to several of the
pluralistic conceptions of social justice—conceptions which will, the program hopes, be realized
in the future, after the students leave the program, thus relying on the individual to “pay it
forward” in order to enable social change to expand outward to a larger population.
After providing some background on Stepping Stone as a program, I situate my argument
within the scholarly literature that surrounds the roles of higher education as a catalyst for social
change as well as a preserver of class inequalities. In particular, I focus on how college pathway
programs make higher education more accessible. I then elaborate on pluralistic conceptions of
social justice and explain where Stepping Stone’s understanding of social justice fits in relation
to such pluralistic conceptions. The rest of my essay examines how different pieces of the
program result in certain achievements of specific conceptions of social justice in various ways.
In the first section, I demonstrate the role of families in helping their Stepping Stone student
succeed and how the families might benefit from their students’ future. In the second section, I
explain how Stepping Stone builds its students as leaders. Finally, I discuss how Stepping Stone

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