Disrupted Mobility? An Ethnographic Exploration of Covid-19’s Experiential Impact on Upwardly Mobile Latinx Youth and their Families

Awarded Scholars:
Leah C. Schmalzbauer, Amherst College
Project Date:
Oct 2020
Award Amount:

While Latinxs comprise just 18 percent of the population, they represent 27 percent of Covid deaths, and unemployment has risen more steeply for Latinxs than for the general population. Sociologist Leah Schmalzbauer will examine the familial implications of Covid-19 among low-income, second-generation youth who are studying at, or recently graduated from, a highly selective college. How is Covid-19 impacting their mobility pathways? How are upwardly mobile Latinx youth navigating the relationship between their goals and plans and their family responsibilities? To what extent does their educational mobility protect their families? Before the pandemic began, Schmalzbauer had completed 60 life history interviews and five years of ethnography exploring the meanings of educational mobility in the lives of low-income, second-generation Latinx students attending Amherst College who received Pell grants and/or full financial aid. Study participants included documented and undocumented/DACA, members of mixed legal status and fully documented families, women, men, and one non-binary individual from a range of Latinx backgrounds, and a range of residences. Building on this research, Schmalzbauer will follow 40 of the original study’s participants in a second wave of the study. Beginning in late 2020, she will interview them twice over the course of the coming year to examine how Covid-19 has impacted their mobility pathways and the meanings of mobility in their lives. She expects that these pathways have been disrupted and their meanings have become in flux. Schmalzbauer will produce a book based on all of her data focusing on the key factors that shaped students’ successful journey to enrollment at an elite college and the “meanings of mobility” in their lives, and she will analyze how Covid-19 has impacted both the pathways and experiences of mobility.


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