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Student Voices

Randy C. Corradine, Assistant Director
Unity Multicultural Education Center
corradine@gonzaga.edu   Direct Line: 509.313.4105

This article, First in the Family – Student Voices complements the piece from the February Parent newsletter. In this piece the authors are two current Gonzaga University first generation college students. 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. Here I present to you the voices of two real students, one a freshman Janay Davis from Lakewood, Washington and other a junior, René Alvarez Jr. from Tacoma, Washington.

In this short piece, both of these students share their reflections on their experience with the transition to college as a first generation college student. For both Janay and René the validation, support, and resources they found here at Gonzaga started with their experiences with the Unity Multicultural Education Center (UMEC) Building Relationships in Diverse Gonzaga Environments (BRIDGE) pre-orientation program. BRIDGE is designed to reach out to multicultural and first-generation college student’s transition to Gonzaga University and Spokane.

These student’s unique experiences are solid examples of how Gonzaga’s campus resources and family support can ease some of the difficulties of the transition to college for first generation college students by letting them know they are not alone.

René Alvarez Jr.
First in the Family Reflection

My arrival at Gonzaga as a first-generation college student attending a private Jesuit university provided initial challenges and fears in navigating academically and socially in a new community. Along with being a first-generation college student, I come from a single parent household, raised by my mother along with my four sisters. Leaving my family in Tacoma, Washington to attend school in Spokane, Washington caused a great emotional severance because of the dependency I had on my family in surviving through tough situations. Without their physical guidance and support along this journey, I became weary of my own ability to thrive in the foreign college environment. Additionally, I was aware of the racial and ethnic differences between Spokane and Tacoma. I feared the difference in racial sensitivity at a predominately White institution where more privileged students may not have been exposed to great racial and ethnic diversity, and feared my own categorization as the “other” on campus.

Prior to beginning classes and the regular student orientation, I participated in a pre-orientation program designed by the Unity Multicultural Education Center (UMEC) called Building Relationships in Diverse Gonzaga Environments (BRIDGE). BRIDGE consists of a week of team building activities designed to meet fellow incoming freshman and various workshops and presentations from departments and staff on campus to familiarize students with the different aids on campus. During this week, I meet fellow peers who experienced similar anxiety in coming to Gonzaga. Some students came from across the country and others across the ocean. Many did not know what to expect in being the first in their family to attend a 4-year institute. Regardless of the various causes of anxiety, it was through BRIDGE that I was able to openly express my worries in attending the institute with empathetic peers.

While the workshops were important in introducing departmental functions, it was the fostering of relationship building and open dialogue throughout the week that proved the most important aspect of the program. My participation in BRIDGE eased my anxieties in attending Gonzaga. As a junior, I am still reaping the benefits of participating in the program, and have been able to navigate through the university and personal challenges with the help of deep friendships nurtured during the BRIDGE program.

Janay Davis
First in the Family Reflection

Being a first generation college student, my transition from home to college life was different than many of my friends that I went to school with. One of the major factors that made my transition to college more comfortable was BRIDGE. BRIDGE is a pre-orientation program where diverse students are welcomed to campus before school starts. This program allowed me to make a small group of friends and a support group at Gonzaga before the other thousand freshmen came to campus. The friends that I made at BRIDGE have helped me feel like a part of this community.

After freshmen orientation and all of the undergraduates were on campus, I felt lost all over again. I did not recognize faces walking to class and I was in shock. I had never been consumed by so many people at once.  Knowing where I was going though, gave me enough confidence to keep my head up and look at every person that was coming my way. After a while though, some of the faces that I saw daily started to look familiar.

My parents support throughout my first, and now second, semester has been reassuring. I have had some hard times when I just wanted to give up and go home, but they keep me motivated to stay. It was a treat for me to see them on campus during Fall Family Weekend. As an added bonus they stocked me up with food to store in my dorm.

There are times during the first semester when I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to keep up. College work at times can be light, and then everything is due at once. There were some nights that I called my parents and just needed to talk to familiar voices. Although the freedom of college is a nice change of pace, it is hard to leave behind the people you love.

College has been a big adjustment for me being a first generation college student but the friends I made at BRIDGE and my parents have really helped support me.

In conclusion, as a parent of a first generation college student, I hope that these student voices can further encourage you to be a partner in your student’s college experience and also to partner with Gonzaga University (GU) as a first generation parent.

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