Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338
January 07, 2002
What should you be when you grow up? Well, where are you from?
When it comes to counselling urban youth about their futures, educators and mentors often base their career advice more on addresses than aspirations, research by a University of Guelph geography professor reveals.
In an article published in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Harald Bauder says that youth from inner-city ethnic-minority neighbourhoods are routinely encouraged to seek careers in fields that require less training and education. And some of that career advice is coming from people who work in community agencies that were created to provide youth with guidance and mentors. "Teachers and counsellors are looking at where these kids come from and thinking: 'No one from that neighbourhood can succeed in college,'" said Bauder. "So they tell these kids: 'You must be good with your hands. Why don't you become an auto mechanic rather than a doctor.' These agencies are channelling youth into career paths that are considered inferior according to the very norms established by the local institutions. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy."
Bauder based his report on research he conducted on two inner-city communities in San Antonio, Texas. The population of these neighbourhoods is more than 90-per-cent Hispanic, and the average annual household income is between one-tenth and one-half of the state average. He surveyed and studied local agencies that provide career-and education-related services to children from the communities. He wanted to determine how people judge the professional and educational capabilities of the youth they serve, and how they perceive what constitutes suitable career paths. The results of his research were published in the fall of 2001.
Bauder added that while his study concentrated on U.S. communities, the findings are pertinent to Canada. "Canada prides itself on not having a concentrated rich/poor population, but that doesn't mean the same stereotypes don't apply," he said.
The study found there is a "very clear labelling process" involving youths from inner-city neighbourhoods. "The public perception is that people from these areas cannot succeed in the labour market or education system," Bauder said. "Many employers won't even hire from these inner-city neighbourhoods. But I also found that institutions often deliver services in a manner that is also biased according to cultural stereotypes." For example, some community agencies actually label youth who live in these neighbourhoods as "dysfunctional" and consider them unfit for careers such as medicine, he said. Others make a distinction between youth who are deemed "dysfunctional" and those who conform to the mainstream. "Through intervention, these agencies attempt to instil 'mainstream' norms of behaviour in 'dysfunctional' youth, assuming that these 'mainstream' norms provide youth with the cultural capital to succeed in the labour market," said Bauder. "But if these efforts fail, the agencies channel youth into secondary careers."
One explanation may be that the people who live and work in these neighbourhoods have internalized cultural stereotypes and may not even be aware of how it is affecting their choices and advice, he said. "Mentors and role models alike embrace the myth that improved career prospects result from overcoming cultural inferiority. Yet it is more likely that young people who act like middle-class suburban youths are simply favoured by educators and employers." The study will be included in Bauder's new book, Work on the West Side: Urban Neighbourhoods and the Cultural Exclusion of Youths, which will be published later this year.
Professor Harald Bauder
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