The Significance of Sharing Social Class Stories

Sonja Ardoin, Ph.D.

May 3, 2019

Last week I watched Dr. Brené Brown’s new Netflix Special, The Call to Courage.  I have also read all of her books.  There are multiple elements that keep bringing me back to Dr. Brown’s work: the fascinating and relatable topics of shame, vulnerability, courage, and empathy; her keen ability to make scholarship accessible to the general public; and, particularly, her brilliant, vivid way of storytelling.  When I listen to her or read her work, I feel like I am hanging out with her on a comfy couch and we are shooting the shit like old friends.  There is power in that kind of storytelling: the power of connection, understanding, and realness.  While it should not be surprising that storytelling brings us together, because as Bell (2010) notes “stories are one of the most powerful and personal ways to learn about the world” (p. 18), it is so refreshing to be in spaces—in-person and virtual—where people engage in the vulnerability and courage required to share their real story.

This is why dr. becky martinez and I are so humbled to include the social class stories of 24 contributing writers, along with our own, in our new book, Straddling Class in the Academy (Ardoin & martinez, 2019), which was recently published with Stylus.  Ranging from students, to multiple levels of administrators, and both non-tenured and tenured faculty, the contributors were invited to write their own narrative, or story, about their poor or working class background from their position within the academy.  Collectively, they provide a vivid understanding of how people can experience and straddle class in the middle, upper, or even elitist class contexts of higher education in the United States.

When I first read the stories, I was emotional (which is relatively rare for me); the writers were incredibly real, honest, and courageous.  They brought me to a similar head and heart space that Brené Brown’s work does.  I felt connected to them in the ways that our social class backgrounds coincided and I thought critically about how the layering of many different identities dimensions—race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, age, ability, and religion, among others—made our social class and classism experiences distinctive.  I was also deeply grateful as I read the stories.  These individuals had allowed me, and anyone who will read the book, into their lives to seek connection, learning, and solace and to champion equity.  These stories and, more so, these people are a gift.  It is my hope that you have a chance to experience these stories and that they inspire you to explore your own social class story and welcome others’ stories.

The significance of sharing social class stories is practicing vulnerability, courage, and empathy in telling your own story and listening to the stories of others; it is comprehending how social class identity influences people’s higher education and life experiences; it is recognizing that classism exists on our campuses and throughout our world; it is identifying and reducing how we perpetuate that classism; and it is creating more equity and justice for individuals from poor and working class backgrounds and communities.  Stories make things real and allow us to humanize complex constructs, such as social class.  But, in order for us to heal through, connect over, and act on stories, we have to be willing to tell them.  As my co-author, dr. martinez, loves to ask people, “What’s your [social] class story?”  We invite you to join us in the social class conversation on social media using: #ClassIdentity, #LetsTalkClass, #StraddlingClass, @NASPAscihe, @SonjaArdoin, and @drbeckymartinez.

Sonja Ardoin, Ph.D. is a learner, educator, facilitator, and author.  Currently serving as an Assistant Professor of Student Affairs Administration at Appalachian State University, Sonja is a proud Cajun, first generation college student to PhD, and scholar-practitioner.  She serves with organizations such as NASPA, ACPA, LeaderShape, and AFLV and enjoys traveling, dancing, reading, writing, sports, laughing, and spending time with people she loves. Learn more about Sonja at


Ardoin, S. & martinez, b. (2019). Straddling class in the academy: 26 stories of students, administrators, and faculty from poor and working class backgrounds and their compelling lessons for higher education policy and practice. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Bell, L.A. (2010).  Storytelling for social justice: Connecting narrative and the arts in antiracist teaching.  New York, NY: Routledge.

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