As Erik Bates discussed in his prior post, there is an assumption in student affairs that we are above impoverished populations; that we only see the privileged students who are well on their way to success. Yet there is a back channel that defines many of the students we enroll. A story that frequently is unknown and can be the cause of academic distress and ultimately attrition of our students. How do we serve the students who are trying to do everything they can to make a better life for themselves? A life they may have never seen?
The following is excerpted with permission from the scholarship application of one of my first-year students:
Neither one of my parents went to college, nor did they graduate from high school. My mother had me 5 days after her 16th birthday. My dad is a laborer, so he never made much money. I have a brother 4 years younger than me, somehow we still had a childhood. Then the major problems started. My parents were both alcoholics and battled drug addiction with my dad ending up in jail. My brother and I both were taken from our parents and put into a foster home. Luckily we were allowed to to move in with our grandmother, but with no steady income, we were moved to another foster home. Then we were again sent to live with our parents. Somehow dad went to jail again and then we moved in with our other grandparents. When dad got out, he came to find my mom and us. Together, their addictions got worse and it broke off our relationships with nearly everyone. Mom left and dad stuggled to keep the up with rent at a house we got next to our grandparents. Dad got drunk just about everyday. I was forced to take care of my new one-year old sister. I remember missing a week of school to stay home and watch her since she was too sick to go to daycare and dad wouldn’t stay home. I still kept my grades up and took honor classes that year. I didn’t have one grade lower than a B. Mom came back to live with us and it was all good, until one night. Dad pushed mom and I jumped up and ran into the room to break up his actions. I was scared of him my whole life and now I stood up to him and was ready to take him on. I stopped dad from doing any more and I got my little sister. The cops were called and both of my parents were arrested that night. I made the decision to move back to our grandparents with my siblings.
First-generation students with high financial need are a staple of many college campuses. We in Student Affairs need new plans of action to serve students for whom there is no outward expectation or preparation for the investment in college. With tuition costs and student loan debt soaring, we must meet the needs of these students through academic support and engagement while inspiring them to complete a degree. We need to keep trying.
This post is part of Blog Action Day.