Confirmation of Candidature – PhD – Lauren Sperotto
The Resilient and the Rest: Students from Low Socio-economic Stratums who Excel Academically, against the Odds
Thomas Jefferson’s immemorial declaration that “all men are created equal” is the beautiful notion
asserting that the opportunities of each individual should be identical, regardless of one’s origin and
demarcating characteristics (Howett, 2015). Despite this aspiration of equality, some Australian students are
systematically penalised because they were born within a specific social class. The unequal nature of a society’s
hierarchy is clearly evident in the subsequent environment, behaviour, cognition, and outcome of each social
group (Cooper & Shallice, 2006; Graham, 2004).
A distinct gap in the literature pertaining to social class endures because the concept of class in Australia
remains a taboo topic. Renowned Australian author Tim Winton (2013) clearly expounds on the silence
surrounding class inequality: “It constitutes an ideological triumph for conservatives that even they must marvel
at. Having uttered the c-word in polite company, I felt, for a moment, as if I’d shat in the municipal pool”. An
open dialogue discussing the effects of class is vital if those who are penalised are to be better understood and
Subsequently, this study will focus on individuals who are able to thrive and prosper, despite their
adverse social class and achieve equal outcomes to those who were born into comparatively more favourable
environments and opportunities. It is through the analysis of these inspirational individuals that educators and
policy makers may be one step closer to bridging the equity divide, creating more alike outcomes for Australian
students regardless of their differing origins.
This proposal is divided into two studies. Study One will focus on the 30 students from low socioeconomic
status/stratums (low SES). The sample population is those who have overcome the environmental
and social obstacles of their stratum to achieve enrolment in tertiary education. Study One will strive to detail
the cognitive processes that have enabled such constructive outcome for these individuals.
The skills and processes identified in Study One will then guide the formation of an intervention
developed and implemented in Study Two. Study Two aims to test if emulating the practices of the individuals
who thrive is possible. The sample population will comprise of 30 undergraduate university students who are
self-identified as being at-risk of disengaging from their higher education studies. Two groups will be selected
according to strict criterion and randomly assigned to either a control or intervention group. A comparison of
retention and outcomes will be ascertained through quantitative and qualitative methods.
When: Thursday, 31March 2016 at 2.00pm
Where: Room s506, Social Sciences Building, Level 5
Panel: Professor Karen Nankervis, Dr Linda Willis
Principal Advisor: Professor Robyn Gillies
Associate Advisor: Professor Annemaree Carroll