By: Randy C. Corradine
Unity Multicultural Education Center
Email: email@example.com Direct Line: 509.313.4105
To be the first at anything can be a challenge. As a pioneer trekking into new territory, your sons and daughters are the first in their family to trail-blaze a path with the goal of earning a college degree. This accomplishment will be the beginning of a new legacy; not only for them but for the rest of the family as well. First generation college students are defined as undergraduate students whose parents did not complete a four year degree and are the first in the family to pursue a post-secondary education.
Adjusting to the academic rigor of college and becoming familiar with university resources, first generation college students face unique challenges beyond their peers. For example, students may enter college with little to no preparation for the expectations of academia or understanding campus culture; not to mention silent barriers like cultural conflict and culture shock. Many first generation students will experience culture conflict of straddling two cultures; the tug-of-war of family responsibilities and scholarly responsibilities. Relocating to college in a different setting may also expose your students to culture shock.
I vividly recall my experiences as a first generation student facing many barriers and challenges. I remember often feeling like I was doing cartwheels uphill in the classroom due to my inadequate academic preparation and experiencing the anxiety of navigating two very different cultures. For me, it often felt like I was balancing one world on my back while also trying to maintain my balance on the revolving surface of a completely different world. It was tough!
On campus I felt isolated next to my peers who often had the benefits of being well traveled and versed in etiquette as they were children of college graduates. On visits home, it was difficult to help my friends and family understand my college experience. My openness to share my new ideas, interests and new connections was met with disapproval. Instead I heard things like, “you forget where you came from? and “so what, you think you’re better than me?”
Throughout my freshman year the pressures of navigating two worlds nearly broke my spirit. I seriously thought about quitting school. I felt out of place on campus and like I no longer belonged in my community. I felt like an imposter in both worlds and I was ashamed of the badge of first in my family. I tried to blend in and normalize my greatest asset–that I was different! Once I realized that my edge was having the best of both worlds and I leveraged this advantage, everything changed. Reflecting back on my undergraduate experience, I realize that my saving grace was my wealth of diversity.
Many studies show that first generation college students are less likely to have parental guidance in their post-secondary experience. Parents of first generation students need to make a commitment to actively participate in students’ college experiences. Parents, family and community support play a significant role in the success of many first generation students. The essential support of my family and community was invaluable. Their belief in me, love, and participation in my college experience helped me push through all the challenges and barriers and earn my diploma.
As a parent of a first generation college student you too face challenges. You may be uncertain of the college experience and at times feel unsure about how to be a resource to your son or daughter. You may want to support your child as a student but don’t know how to do so.
My suggestion is simple–take part. Your participation is very important to your student’s college success. Be a partner in your student’s college experience but also partner with Gonzaga University (GU) as a first generation parent. I encourage you to visit campus multiple times throughout your student’s tenure at GU and familiarize yourself with all the support services and resources available.
Resources like the Office for Parent and Family Programs, Unity Multicultural Education Center (UMEC), Counseling Center Services, Career Center, Student Wellness Resource Center, DREAM office, Health Center, Center for Community Action and Service Learning (CCASL), and University Ministry can offer assistance to help you support this experience. Encourage your students to build relationships with the staff at Gonzaga. The Gonzaga community is fully committed to engaging the whole student and ready to go above and beyond to help all Zags succeed. These efforts will make a world of difference for the quality of support you as a first generation parent offer your students.
Finally, your support and guidance contributed to your students attending Gonzaga. Continue to support and encourage your students in their educational pursuits all the way to graduation. Remember, their success is your success and this can transform family history by starting a new legacy.