Orr's talk will focus on the test score gap between blacks and whites, concentrating specifically on the role of wealth in contributing to differences in achievement between the two groups. She argues that wealth, which is an indicator of both financial and human capital, can affect achievement, as well as help to explain the black-white test score gap. Implications for the class versus race debate will be discussed.
"A common belief held by many Americans is that if you want to be successful, all you have to do is try," said Orr. "Success, according to many, can be attained by any who want it badly enough."
However, findings from Orr's study and others like it contradict the notion that opportunities to achieve are equally open to all individuals. The results indicate that characteristics like parental wealth contribute to whether or not a person is successful. Despite the emergence of egalitarian ideologies, individuals and groups in American society do not have equal opportunities.
A lack of wealth among certain individuals and segments of the population has important consequences for these individuals and groups, as well as society as a whole, Orr said.
"When an entire group has limited access to wealth, this group has decreased access to the opportunities, resources and power that wealth confers upon its owners," she added. "These limitations can serve to disenfranchise an entire segment of the population, making it difficult for them to fully participate in societal institutions. This can lead to the inability of a group to have an influence in areas such as politics and the economy."
Racial inequalities in education became a concern to Orr as an undergraduate at Nebraska Wesleyan University. She specialized in race and education in graduate school at the University of Notre Dame where she earned both a master's and a Ph.D.
The lecture material stems from a paper by Orr, currently under review for the journal Sociology of Education. In addition, parts of the project were presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, a lecture series sponsored by the Institute for Educational Initiatives and the annual meeting of the Pacific Sociological Association.
The Linfield College faculty lecture series offers one presentation each month by members of the Linfield faculty. For more information, call 503-883-2409.