October 10, 2011

Master Status

Janis_picBy Janis Prince Inniss

What is your master status?

For many readers of this blog, it is probably student—whether college, high school or of some other level. Your master status is your most important status and people tend to interact with you on its basis.

Of course, your master status is one of many possible statuses—socially defined positions that we recognize. (Note that the idea of prestige varies depending on certain occupational statuses, for example, is a related—but different concept.) Apart from student, some other statuses that you might hold are daughter/son, girlfriend/boyfriend, worker, athlete, and so forth. Being a student is an example of an achieved status (as opposed to an ascribed one) because it is something you are because of your doing—not simply by virtue of your birth.

Each status has related roles, those behaviors and duties that we associate with it. As an instructor, students have certain expectations of me. They expect that I will show up to class, on time, neatly dressed, having prepared a lesson to teach, and that I have considerable knowledge of the material. What are our expectations of college students? Mine are the same: that they will show up to class, on time, appropriately dressed and prepared for class.

I notice that freshmen in particular, but many of my students are very unprepared for class. They do little reading of assigned materials and struggle to turn in small assignments over the course of a semester. And as I learn more about the life of today’s college student--I make no assumptions that the college experience I had decades ago is the same as today--I wonder whether they are experiencing role strain or role conflict.

Role strain refers to the conflicting demands that we experience from a single role. As a college student, if all of your professors are piling on the work, you will likely experience role strain as you juggle all the demands placed on you in your role as college student; this is especially true if many of your larger assignments are due around the same time.

Role conflict is the sociological term used to describe incompatibility between roles; we have various statuses and accompanying roles and sometimes these roles don’t mesh together very well. A common example of this is that of a so-called “working mother,” a woman who is a mother who also works outside the home. The role of mother has demands that conflict with demands of employment—many around time spent in each role, an example of role conflict. Maybe role conflict is a useful tool to understand the lack of preparation I observe in my students.

Recently, Karen Sternheimer discussed the socialization process that you will likely experience as you become a college student. In that post, she points out that as a new college student you have to navigate your newfound autonomy and roommates, along with a host of written and unwritten rules about college life. My hypothesis is that the master status of many of my students is not that of student, but that of a newly independent person (NIP) and their focus is on navigating that world much as Sternheimer describes.

I think that “college student” is a completely different status (not that they are mutually exclusive or can’t be combined) and one that is in many ways antithetical to being a NIP. As my on-campus students describe the life of the NIP, the demands and obligations of that role are of partying, drinking, playing video games, hanging out and taking part in various social-networking affiliations. For NIPs who live off-campus the role seems to demand high employment as they try to earn enough to support themselves financially.

I’m deducing what your master status is: rather than assuming that it is college student simply because you attend college, I am thinking about the demands that you yield to as defining your status. My students tell me that their expectation is to have enough time to socialize, that they find reading boring, and would rather participate in any number of social activities, and that they experience regular interruptions—social invitations—when they attempt to focus on schoolwork.

As I listen to their expectations of what life is like for a college student, their emphasis seems much further away from learning than the emphasis I and most faculty place on that endeavor. Therefore, I conclude that the demands of being a NIP are such that they trump those associated with being a college student.

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Which one are you? NIP or college student? Both? If both, how do you combine the roles in a way that alleviates role conflict? And what is the socialization process that helps you to focus on being a college student—focusing on the student role as a learner?


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While I am still a high school student, I find that the roles of an on-campus NIP is similar to the roles of an upperclassmen in high school. Being an upperclassmen demands some of the same examples that you have mentioned; partying, drinking, hanging out, taking part in social-networking affiliations.

I thought this blog was very well thought out and offered a lot of information and new concepts to a reader. Good job!

An increasing number of studets today, myself incuded, are returning students and our NIP days are long behind us. I quit my job and moved back home to take care of my 88 year old mom; this gives me the time needed to pursue another bachelors degree. This makes me a caregiver first and a college student second, and I alleviate role conflict by being a part time student. I find study partners to keep me engaged in studying; that way I satisfy my social needs through people who share a common goal with me.

I'am a high school study and I have recently in the last year become an NIP myself. Despite this I continue to still see others willing to remake their social structure now that I am gone. I believe that your modern day discussion of different status is a good and releavant thing to discuss. Your Blog was well constructed and carefully thought out I can tell that you put a lot of time to type it. Your Blog was also very imformative providing readers with good term's to learn and information.

I am in high school, and I agree that there are different types of learners. There are the types that listen in class, and work hard, and there's the types that prefer to do social things. In this day in age, I don't think that you can label people either being a "NIP" OR a "college student". It is possible to be both, it might be difficult but it is. I find your blog was very informative, I've never heard anything like this before. Keep it coming ! :)

As a senior in high school sending in applications to colleges, this article is somewhat unsettling. Having never been a newly independent person, I can't identify with the wants and needs expressed by some college students in this article. However, I can say that when I am a newly independent person, I will make an effort to prioritize and keep a balance in my life. Social interaction is an important part of college, but what is the true purpose of higher education? Role conflict occurs quite often for high schoolers and college students alike. Bombarded with all the activities we are urged to join makes our lives like a juggling act. As I said before, the key to overcoming role conflict is prioritizing and deciding what is most important at the time, or figuring out an efficient way to combine the roles and obligations.

We have learned all about roles and statuses in this weeks chapter. As you said, an example of a master status is a student. Often, different statuses can conflict with one another and this creates what is called role strain. Someone who has the master status of a student may also have the status of an athlete. In situations like this, priorities play a large role in determining which to spend more time on. This article was very helpful!

For those of us whom became NIP's before college students, perhaps being a student is more of a priority. We have already had some time to learn personal financial skills, etc.
I personally saw the college experience and learning as part of being an NIP. Which may explain the questions I have in relation to my peers and fellow students. I wondered where their focus was, commitment and drive was. I never thought I would be ridiculed in college for being "too academic" by a peer. I sadly feel some teachers reflect this decline of college student roles over NIP and someone like me, eager to learn and be challenged, suffers.

While I am still in high school, I believe that being a NIP and a student can peacefully coexist. The key is balance. Too much of one thing, I believe, can be a bad decision because you are missing out on the benefits of the other. For example, if you are a studious learner and never leave the library, you are missing out on some of the more fun aspects of college. On the other hand, if you do nothing but party you learn nothing and waste your money.

I believe i could be both a college student and a nip. I have friends i chill with and do my work on the computer. Its not like we be partying but hang and tell about our day as I type my reports or taking a test. I liked to be challenged at some things and education is one.

I am in my second year as a college student. I play baseball and that takes up most of my time as a student, but our coach makes us go to the learning lab on campus to ensure we do well in class. I believe I am capable of being a student and a athlete.

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