Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

The Perks of Being a First-Gen Student

To be a first generation student can mean we are the trailblazers in our families. The first to graduate high school, the first to pursue a higher education and the first to many more. We deal with so many firsts that often being the “first” means navigating and enduring adversities by ourselves. However, we are constantly told that there are perks to being a first generation student. Let’s explore these perks together.

As first generation students, we have the opportunity to experience what our parents could not, and in many instances, that means seeking out higher education or being able to participate in certain programs or conversations that they were unable to. One perk is that educational resources and programs are targeted towards us. Reflecting back on my college application era last year, I realized how colleges’ “need for diversity” have made first-generation students become their targeted audience. Since many higher educational institutions such as Whitman College strive to have a “diverse” school environment, they market their unique opportunities to first generation students. 

Many first generation students do choose to attend these institutions to pursue higher education. However, these students are rarely met with the resources that the schools claim they have. Institutions only market these first generation students as a way to amplify their commitment to diversity, but many first generation students are forced to navigate through the college experience on their own. The college experience consists of bureaucracy, microaggressions and a distinct lack of community. You see, this isn’t really a perk.

Despite this, what motivates me to attend college and work on a career for myself, is my mother. 

My mother is from Somalia. She always dreamed of going to school for journalism but couldn’t after the Somali Civil War impacted schools and the economy. Her family could not pay off school fees, so she had to drop out of school. She reminds me that I am living out her dreams. I am living out the opportunity she could not, which motivates me to complete my education. I know that many first generation students relate to my experience with my mother. We all want to accomplish what our parents could not. 

It’s not only memorable, but it’s also fulfilling when I am able to give back for all the sacrifices that my parents had to make. However, this also comes with many struggles and pressures. Trying to repay for my parents’ sacrifices can become a burden when I also deal with high expectations from myself. It can be detrimental to not only my goals but also to my mental well-being. 

Although we have the privilege to be able to attend these higher institutions, we still have to endure so many hardships by ourselves. A main hardship is lacking a sense of belonging. I sometimes feel like my only contribution to campus at a prestigious college is being a Black student that fits my school’s quota for diversity. I am often met with insecurities regarding whether I am smart enough or whether I am too poor to belong here. These insecurities are not uncommon; many first generation college students feel the same way.

In an interview for US News & World Report, Deputy Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Veronica Hauad explained that life on campus consists of feeling like you “don’t belong, or that we are incapable of succeeding due to how competitive, white or rich the school campus is.” Many times our struggles or feelings that we deal with go unrecognized. We get to attend these highly valued institutions, but at what stake? We still have to endure hardships that only occur because of our class and race regardless of where we go. 

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