First Generation College Student
Blessing or a Burden?
A first-generation student in its simplest terms can be defined as a ” student with neither parent having any education beyond high school”. It is one of the most fulfilling accomplishments that you and your family can “share”. The degree represents the breaking of a cycle of an entire family system. It comes, however, at a huge cost to that student’s mental and emotional health.
I remember leaving home and feeling like I had betrayed my siblings, that I deserted them. This “breakaway” guilt that I was feeling was caused by the void I knew I was leaving in my household when I left.
Who would make sure everybody got up for school?
Who would help my siblings with their homework?
How would things ever get done without me? Believe it or not, I did not trust my mom to maintain the household or my younger siblings without me being there.
It was extremely hard to focus my first year at school. I remember talks with my grandmother and her constantly telling me how I needed to help myself before I could help others. How bad I wanted to believe that!
Once I was able to really grasp what my grandmother meant with that statement. I convinced myself that focusing solely 100% on myself was what I needed to do. But it wasnt long before a new feeling crept in.
I was angry with my parents for not equipping me with the skills I needed to survive in this new arena of life. Angry that I learned of the right way to do something when I was being corrected for doing it wrong. Upset that my parents would brag about my accomplishments to family and friends as if they helped or supported me while I was here. Frustrated that no money whatsoever was saved up to go towards my education.
I replayed how many pairs of Jordans my parents bought me throughout my life and compared that to when I was in college and couldn’t even afford books. Angry at the fact that because my mother refused to do my fasfa (in hindsight I think she was too proud to admit she did not know how to complete it) I had to fill it out myself and it resulted in me being chosen for financial aid verification pretty much every year I was enrolled in school. Which of course, as a first-generation college student, I knew nothing about.
I was almost ready to give up. But by the grace of God and a teacher from high school who believed in me and supported me any way he could. I was eventually able to get my paperwork in order and register for classes. It pissed me off that I had worked so hard in high school only to have my mom refuse to do my financial aid. I talked to my dad about buying me the essential dorm room things you know fridge, microwave, laptop, etc. He was a father of five with a set of twins on the way. He told me “you’re 18 now and I have other kids to take care of. You can call me in an emergency but you need to figure it out from here on out.”
I was devastated. It was as if I was being punished for the fact they were continuing to have kids they couldn’t afford. It was as if me pursuing a higher education, me trying to be successful, me trying not to be a statistic, was not a priority to either of them. So I cut off contact to my mother and my father during that first year of school.
After I got the swing of college and started navigating how it worked. Taking different classes that expanded my thinking. Made me question systems and how things worked. When I returned home I was greeted by animosity. I was told that I was an “oreo” that I sounded “white”. That I thought I was better than everyone. So here I am in an environment where I dont feel like I belong, where I can barely even afford to go, to visit where I came from and to be told I no longer belong there either.
Im happy to say that I eventually graduated with no major bumps in the road but so many first-generation college students have stories that are similar. No direction, no guidance, no help, and no clue. Asking others for help became my saving grace and I was able to build my own support system outside of my family. Please understand that first-generation college students deal with so many personal obstacles and issues and then get thrown into a completely different (and often predominately white) space than they are used to navigating. Never hesitate to encourage/support first-generation college students because you just may be the driving force that keeps them going.
First generation college students should always remember:
- What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
- Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help
- Stay self-cared up
- Put yourself and your needs first.
- You cant take care of anyone until you take care of yourself.
Cherise – a proud first-generation college student graduate