Imagine navigating the living, breathing universe of a college campus for the first time, with all the pamphlets filled with smiling faces and ‘Welcome Home’ phrases, and then having the various new waves of vital information piling up before your eyes. Now picture that as a first-generation college student without any family members to seek help from.
On Nov. 14, the First Generation Student Success Working Group held an event to celebrate first-generation college students.
They tabled on Brock Commons in the morning and Upchurch in the afternoon. The group currently has faculty members, one graduate student, and one undergraduate student promoting awareness on Longwood’s campus.
Cheryl Steele, dean of student engagement, and one of the faculty members on the committee, said, “The First-Generation Student Success Working Group…has been working for several years to build positive messaging and information about and for first-generation college students."
Events like this establish new voices being heard from first-gen students facing struggles that other students rarely hear about or understand. After all, college is tough enough when a student has all the resources easily available to them.
Steele further explained, “While students generally have to adjust to university life, first-gen students do not usually have the base of knowledge and experiences that students can get from family members about how to navigate college. They are trying to figure out a new environment with jargon that is unfamiliar and complexities of processes with university offices and requirements, both in and out of the classroom."
Despite all the confusion, the First-Generation Student Success Working Group wants first-gens to achieve a sense of pride in who they are.
Steele also commented, “First-Generation college students are pioneers. They will be the first in their family to complete a Bachelor’s degree, and set a new course for their generation. We have 1,116 First-Gen undergraduate students at Longwood. That’s 31% and the number is expected to grow, both here and nationally…First-Gen college students have clear strengths including courage, resiliency, persistence, practical wisdom and adaptability.”
Since the committee is primarily a student-oriented resource, it is important to note when students take interest in causes like this.
JeanCarlo "JC" Siles, the only undergrad student on the committee, stated, “I created this first generation proposal in English 400 for upcoming freshman gearing towards the general population of students. My professor, Mary Carroll-Hackett, loved it to death, and introduced it to the committee."
First-gen awareness isn’t as vocalized as other topics on college campuses, so there is a lot of information for people to learn.
Siles mentioned,“I learned a lot of networking skills. There are committee members that know the community really well and want to better Longwood. They’re generally good people to work with, and they want to work with Longwood students."
He continued, "It’s not like you don’t get any support, but you don’t get any contextual support. My parents support me, but they don’t support me in the same way as other students who have their parents.”
It’s important for students who are not first-gens to not only be made aware of first-generation college students, but for them to listen and try to understand the extra level of confusion of their first-gen peers have throughout their college experiences.
Madison Stubbs, a first-gen freshman at Longwood, mentioned, “My friends don’t understand that I don’t really know what I’m doing. Like their parents can answer their questions, but my parents can’t. Like when I’m confused, I’m confused."
When asked about advantages of being a first-gen student, Stubbs said, “An advantage would be getting to do something for the first time and getting to tell my family about it.”
First-generation college student awareness is a topic on college campuses that will continue to grow and be explored by others in the next few years to come.
This event was sponsored by the National Center for First-Generation Student Success. https://firstgen.naspa.org/