As I approach the beginning of my graduate career, I thought I would take a few moments to reflect on my undergraduate experience. For many students, an undergraduate education is the automatic decision immediately following high school. For those of us who are first-generation students, our college experience wasn’t an automatic decision. Growing up in a single-parent household, I knew what it meant to work hard for things I didn’t have; one of those things was my college education.
Being a first-generation student is a huge challenge. As a scholarship/grant student at Saint Vincent College, I developed the habit of writing numerous of essays, in hopes of the opportunity to attend college. To pay off the additional fees, I had more than eight work-study jobs throughout my four years of school. I also went in with no understanding of proper study skills. I had to navigate my way through trial and error (which usually began with a lot of procrastination).
Regardless, as a first-generation student, I learned a lot that I take into my daily work in Residence Life. Many of our students are either first generation or come from low socioeconomic backgrounds. A lot of them have multiple jobs and scholarships. I’ve learned not to scold students for not sleeping enough but to encourage healthier habits when they have the time. Unfortunately, with multiple jobs and excessive amounts of homework, students often don’t have the ability to go to bed as early as we expect them to.
I’ve learned to take a step back when a student is being combative or unresponsive in a conversation or situation. Everyone is going through a different struggle; some of those struggles are worse than others. I’ve also learned to “fight” for my “kids.” When I was a hall director in my previous job, I had a student who couldn’t afford to attend the institution. I tried to the best of my ability to see what other jobs/financial aid were available. I even gave her food money for taking care of my cat when I was away. Fight for them when you can.
We need to look out for our students. Although it’s challenging to deal with combative students or student leaders who may be slacking on their responsibilities, we need to keep in mind that they are all going through struggles that may be comparable to our own. Students may be dealing with issues back home. Some may not have homes to go back to. Some may be struggling with identifying their sexual orientation. Others may not know how to keep up with academics while working three different jobs. Take a step back to reflect on what your students may be going through.
Lastly, never forget where you came from and what you needed to do to get where you are today. Being vulnerable and empathetic will make you a stronger guide and model for your students.
Originally Published on my personal blog.