Reviews, Teaching and Justice

Bandwidth Recovery: Helping Students Reclaim Cognitive Resources Lost to Poverty, Racism, and Social Marginalization

Bandwithby Chris Grabau, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

As a part of our ongoing theme on Teaching and Justice, the Reinert Center hosted a book discussion based on Cia Verschelden’s 2017 book, Bandwidth Recovery: Helping Students Reclaim Cognitive Resources Lost to Poverty, Racism, and Social Marginalization.  The book illustrates how persistent racism, bias, and socioeconomic barriers can rob students of some of the cognitive capacities necessary to become successful in college.  Throughout the book, author Cia Verschelden explains that lower income and minority students may find themselves struggling not because of lower ability or poor preparation, but because they are subject to life situations that deplete cognitive resources necessary for learning.

As a social worker by training, Verschelden utilizes a strengths perspective that can help offset some of the negative factors minority students often experience that threaten academic and personal success.

The book is organized into three parts.  Part I presents how racism, poverty and social marginalization impacts physical health, mental health, and cognitive capacity.  Part II identifies some of the sociopsychological “underminers” that adversely impact student learning, achievement, and belongingness.  Part III provides a number of evidence-based interventions that may help mitigate some of the adverse effects of poverty and racism.  Some of these interventions include fostering a growth mindset, cultivating a culture of belonging, decreasing stereotype and identity threat, and developing institutional structures and processes to support minoritized students.

To help illustrate how effectively these interventions can create positive academic outcomes for minoritized students, Verschelden concludes the book with a case study about the Freshman Learning Communities at Georgia State University

While the title and theme of the book can seem to focus on what students in these groups do not have or on what parts of the academic systems are failing minoritized students, Verschelden asserts quite the opposite. For instance, Verschelden states,  “A focus on recovering mental bandwidth lost to poverty, racism, and social marginalization is, in my view, a very positive approach that acknowledges the inherent ability and amazing potential of every student. It does not blame people – not the students and not the faculty… I argue in this book that we in higher education can, by understanding these social realities, help out students recover the mental bandwidth necessary for them to reach their academic, personal and career potential.”

Thought provoking and well researched, Verschelden makes a case that everyone within the academic community can play a role in supporting minoritized students.  If you would like to discuss how to investigate ways to help all students offset some of the impacts of racial and socioeconomic inequity, consider having a confidential consultation with someone from the Reinert Center.


Verschelden, C. (2017). Bandwidth recovery: helping students reclaim cognitive resources lost to poverty, racism, and social marginalization. Stylus Publishing, LLC.