By Bryn Fawn
College has become a large stepping stone in American society. It’s seen as a necessity to obtain a job and climb the social and professional ladder. Yet, with many factors, not everyone can make it. Not everyone will walk across the stage, diploma in hand. These people do not simply disappear. They work, shop, cook and eat, have families and try to make do. Then their kids go to college, and suddenly it’s so much harder than first imagined, especially when their parents can’t assist.
That’s what Student Support Services and Student Accessibility Services have spotlighted this November. On Instagram, SSS shared photos and testimonials from students who identified themselves as first generation. Each student ranges in their race, gender and major.
“November is First-Generation Celebration month and we wanted to honor some of you! We are so proud of you and cannot wait to see where your futures will take you,” SSS wrote in its Instagram post.
Being a first generation student is something often left forgotten or on the sidelines. It is something you can’t infer from someone’s appearance or mannerisms. Yet, according to Bankrate, an independent publisher with resources on financial literacy, one-third of all college students are first generation.
“Roughly 60% of first-generation students were also the first sibling in their family to go to college during the 2015-16 academic year,” Bankrate states on its website. “Only 27% of first-generation students finish college within four years.”
Twenty-seven percent of students finish within four years. Thirty-three percent of first-generation students drop out of college, according to the Education Advisory Board. Too many of these students are failed by their schools, and forced to fall into the same cycle as their parents. The cycle continues on, forever damning the family to poverty as it’s no secret a degree is necessary to climb the socio-economic classes.
SSS and SAS are taking a step to stop that cycle. Part of SSS’s criteria is to be a first generation student, alongside having a disability and/or meeting the financial requirement. SSS provides classes designed and catered to this demographic. SSS offers a half-semester course for college readiness, including financial literacy — which is knowledge critical outside the classroom as well.
SSS assigns an adviser to a student as well. These advisers can make or break some of these student’s semesters. These students cannot turn to their parents for help or for advice. Their parents have no knowledge of college experiences, especially those for juniors and seniors. These advisers, then, take the place of parents and help guide students to their best ability.
SSS and SAS also constantly hold events in the Relaford Room in Macomb Hall. De-stress events, study halls and seasonal parties are all events they hold often. The atmosphere at these events is one of belonging and understanding. The people that host and attend these events fall from similar trees, and know what it’s like to work hard to achieve their aspirations. Many faculty in SSS and SAS are first generation themselves.
Being a first-generation student means something. It means breaking the cycle of poverty. It means fighting against systems that oppress. It means making one’s family proud. It means building a brighter and better future, not just for the student themself, but their children and family.
These resources are integral to prevent the never ending cycle where the poor get poorer and the rich only continue to profit more. Everyone deserves access to higher education, the ability to achieve their dreams and to live comfortably with a job they can at least tolerate.
Even then, these students still face the same pitfalls as more fortunate students. Debt, crises, burn out, tricky professors, deadlines and all the other stressors of college. It only piles on further to their difficulties. SSS is so integral in these situations, providing resources and support. Quitting feels like such a simple and easy escape, escape out of the hell that is college, yet it only dooms students to a rough future due to how the American “meritocracy” is built.
First generation students deserve recognition, especially with all the hassles and obstacles meticulously placed in their path. They deserve to be understood and helped, and they deserve to be able to walk across that stage for the first time in their family line, achieving such a great honor.