Trailblazer: first gen students pave way

By Sofia Syed, Arts & Life Editor

When thinking of a first generation college student, most people don’t think of Hillary Clinton. When she first attended college she felt out of place and wanted to drop out. However, after volunteering on campus, Clinton felt as if she belonged and finished her college career.

Being a first generation college student can be challenging because it may seem as if one is going through it alone. The University of Akron’s Counseling Center wants students to know they are available to help.

Psychology intern Rebecca Crain held a presentation last Tuesday, March 29, titled “Trailblazers: First Generation College Students Tell their Stories,” to inform attendees about what it means to be a first generation student and how it can affect those students.

First generation students are students whose parents do not have an associate or bachelor’s degree; one in six freshmen attending a four-year university in the United States are such students, according to the presentation.

Crain showed a video from The New York Times called “Do I Belong,” which offered insight from multiple first generation students at universities. The students said not having emotional and financial support are issues they face. Most of them need a job while attending school, and feel discouraged by their peers because they want to fit the social norms.

One student in the video said she tells people she is from New Jersey because she doesn’t want to be associated with Columbia, where she is really from. This is because she does not want her peers or professors to view her any differently just because she’s from a different country.

After the video, Crain said that first generation students feel as if they need to erase their origin and part of their identity to belong. Such students may feel discouraged while attending college and may end up dropping out. Crain compared it to going to the gym and trying to find that kind of motivation to stay in school.

According to the presentation, most first generation students are likely to be black or hispanic and they might lack reading, writing and oral communication skills. They also participate in fewer extracurricular activities, cultural programs, and internship opportunities.

“I think that we see a lot of students in the Counseling Center who identify as first generation college students. We actually have a huge population of [them] here at The University of Akron,” Crain said. “We’ve got a lot of students who come from non-traditional backgrounds, so they’re working full-time, they have children, they come from low income backgrounds and they’re an ethnic minority as well. But it’s not something a lot of administrators know what to do about.”

An issue first generation students face is that they do not have as much involvement from their parents. Their parents may still be in another country, or they may have not gotten an education and cannot support their son or daughter.

The presentation explained the nine needs of a low-income first generation student: a roadmap for success, a guide, an intrusive model of guidance, campus and community resources, self awareness of strengths, values and passion, insight that leads to resilience and emotional intelligence, transformative experiences, opportunities to develop critical thinking and intellectual curiosity, and college and professional success networks.

The students might also feel a lack of hope, negative academic self-images, family pressure, and a fear of failing.

Freshman Obaida Shwaihi said she was taken aback by the statistics of first generation students.

“I never knew it was that high of a percentage,” Shwaihi said. “One in every six is quite high. I thought it was like one in every twenty. It makes me become aware of this fact and something needs to be done to make sure the percentage goes down.”