First-gen students: changing family history
3 mins read

First-gen students: changing family history

Twenty-two percent of USD students are the first in their family to seek a college degree. Next week, USD is celebrating those students with a week of their own.

First Gen Week will feature a week of events including Motivational Monday, YoteFloats, Go Away Tuesday and a pizza party. TRio advisor Carlie Ness said it is important to make sure students recognize the significance of changing their family’s “history.”

“There are so many types of students who come from all these different stories and first-gen is just one of those stories,” she said. “First-generation is a part of their identity and I think all parts of people’s identity should be celebrated and honored.”

One of the biggest challenges Ness said first-gen students face is becoming familiar with the “lingo” on a college campus. Parents who attended college before their children have a basic understanding of how everything works, even if they’re not familiar with the technological systems.

“Some of the big acronyms and processes and the whole system of higher education you have to learn when you get here and it’s not user-friendly,” she said. “It is this insider knowledge being in higher ed, so if you weren’t exposed to these things when you were younger, that could be considered a disadvantage.”

Dallas Doane, honors advisor and first-gen student, said it is important to have weeks like First Gen Week to make first-gen students feel welcome and help break the “imposter syndrome” some of them suffer from. 

After last year’s First Gen Day, Doane said USD wanted to make it bigger and extend the celebration throughout the year. 

“We did it last year and had a great event. This year, we thought, ‘well this is USD, so why not make it bigger and better?’” he said. “(This year) we are building on programs that are already normally happening and just adding a first-generation spin.”

The week begins with a first-gen-themed Motivational Monday where students can make buttons and bumper stickers. Ness said she encourages non-first-generation students to attend to show their support for first-gen students.

“First Gen Week is for everyone. If they want to support first-gen students (they should) come and celebrate. It is more of an awareness thing for all of campus,” she said. 

On Tuesday, a cookie making event is planned with YoteFloats. On Wednesday, TRiO is partnering with the Gallagher Center; first-gen students will talk about their experiences studying abroad. 

“I was a first-gen student and I had no idea that studying abroad would be an option for me,” Doane said. “Affording school (is a challenge) too because low income really intersects with first-generation students. The median income for a first-gen family is $41,000 opposed to $90,000.”

To conclude the student celebration, the Center for Diversity and Community is hosting a pizza party on Thursday and a faculty development workshop webinar led by author of “Unlocking The Potential” Amelia Gamel on Friday. Faculty will learn ways to best mentor first-gen students.

Ness and Doane said by educating people on what it means to be a first-gen student, they will inspire more first-gen students to celebrate their “stories,” Ness and Doane said.

“Some people don’t really care if they are first-gen or not, but we care,” Ness said. “They are making a big change in the historical context of their family and family future just by being educated, and we just want to be there to celebrate being firstgen, whatever that looks like, whatever their story is.”