By Rudy Mondragón
Intercultural Relations Specialist
Unity Multicultural Education Center
Going to college for any student can be a challenging experience. Challenges like being lost on your first day of school, missing your professor’s office hours, or arriving to the library to study just to find out you forgot your book are very common for any student. For first-generation students however, the challenges are doubled due to the simple fact that they are the first in their family to go to college. First-generation students are likely to have limited knowledge of time-management, college finances and budget management skills, inadequate academic preparation, and difficult time navigating institutional culture. First-generation students often encounter a cultural conflict between home and their college community. Since many have a huge sense of family responsibility, first-generation students are often times balancing college and family responsibilities. For example, it is not uncommon for first-generation students to be criticized by their family for devoting more time to school rather than attending to family responsibility. In my experience as a first-generation student however, it was the opposite. On many occasions I would choose to stay on campus to complete school work over attending a family birthday party or baptism. Not attending these events made me feel like I was not supportive of my family and I would internalize self imposed guilt. Looking back, decisions like this were made because college work was demanding and required a great deal of time. In order to get my work done, I had to sacrifice family time. It was a long process for me to come to terms with that and be okay with the fact that I would not spend as much time with my family as I wanted to. For any kind of student, this is not an easy negotiation.
Often times when I reflect on my experience as a first-generation student, I think about the things that helped me persist in higher education, which eventually lead to my graduation. Validation played a critical role in my journey. Validation is defined as an enabling, confirming and supportive process that fosters academic and personal development in higher education. My source of validation came from a faculty mentor that I met in one of my summer classes. Dr. Castellanos helped me navigate the institutional culture and eventually motivated and guided me towards my graduate studies. Recommending that your daughter or son find a meaningful mentor at Gonzaga University will be important because mentorship relationships help support students. Parents can play a role in validating their children too. Knowing that first-generation students experience many challenges, urge your children to engage in self-reflection and think about their negative experiences. Although Gonzaga University is a great place to be, none of our students are immune to the challenges that come with being a college student. By encouraging your daughter or son to self-reflect, you can help them work through those difficult times and support their college experience. This in turn will help them avoid academic and social self-destructive attitudes and behaviors while at Gonzaga.
Although being a first-generation student is difficult, it is important for them to know that they are not alone. Validation not only comes from family, but also from Gonzaga University. There are many resources at Gonzaga University that first-generation students can utilize to help them transition and find success. A good place to start is the Unity Multicultural Education Center, where our staff can help point your student in the right direction.