Same Campus, Different Experiences: First Generation College Students Share Their Stories
“You need to slow down. Don’t work so hard buddy.”
“You always have to work.”
There’s more to college than work.”
“You have your whole life to work.”
“You should relax with us for a while.”
“You’re leaving again?”
I would hear those statements and more from roommates and others who struggled to grasp the concept that I had to work my way through school.
Although the comments often came from a well-intentioned place, they often left me feeling invisible and misunderstood.
As a first generation low-income college student, working multiple jobs with a full class load, I found myself living, learning, and working with students who were not first generation, students who didn’t need to take out loans because their parents, other relatives or loved ones paid their tuition.
As a first generation low-income college student working multiple jobs with a full class load, I found myself living, learning, and working with students who were not first generation, who did not have to work because their parents, other relatives or loved ones were able to deposit large sums of money into their bank accounts weekly or bi-weekly.
To those students and their families, school was their job, and they were compensated accordingly.
As misunderstood as I would sometimes feel, that was definitely a concept of their lived experiences that I struggled to grasp as well.
“What does that even feel like?” I would often wonder.
Multiple jobs, some on campus, some off. I definitely acknowledge that having the opportunity to work as a resident assistant was a huge lifesaver for me in that while I was there I had a guaranteed roof over my head, and that the room and board fees were heavily reduced. Without that, and other programmatic and academic interventions, I may not have finished school.
To this day, I can still remember critical moments where my academic journey might have ended had it not been for certain people and programs that recognized and worked to reduce social inequity on multiple levels.
To this day, I can still remember others whose academic journeys were halted temporarily or indefinitely, more often than not due to lack of financial support.
I now work with and support many first-generation college students who find themselves at the front of their paths, learning to navigate their new environment.
The leisurely and seemingly carefree environments that are often depicted in the pamphlets, online materials, through merchandising, and commercials often miss the lived realities of many first generation college students.
There is a tendency to assume that, just because we attend college that we are all in the same place socioeconomically. That assumption couldn’t be further from reality.
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From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins-Jones, MSW, LLMSW