CTL: Best Practices for Supporting the Academic Success of First Generation College Students

My name is Vivianna Alvarez. I’m a third year student here at Hampshire College, studying education and psychology. I’m also a signer for the first generation college student group which is called First Scholars. And I’m here and I thought that this was an important topic, because it feels to me that there is – first generation college students have been…they’re not a necessarily noticeable group. They’re not an identified group. But yet, in our meetings, in our conversations, we hear about the different things that students are interested in that are connected to being first gen students or the struggles that they are having as students that are new to college without the resources that many of our other students have. This is also something that’s for me, very personal, I’m a first generation college student. Neither of my parents went beyond high school and I’m the only one in my immediate family to have a bachelor’s. Actually, my nieces and my nephews are all getting to college, so that’s good But yet, there’s a lot of privileges that allowed me to be that person in my family to do that, so, I have some pieces that I can very much relate to. A lot of the current research and thinking about this and some of my own struggles with confidence in different areas that I think come from long, long ago and continue that are related to being a person without a real clear understanding of how to navigate college systems. This is also something for me that is very important to help my colleagues think through how to better support students to get through, successfully, and in a really empowered way I’m sorry, I was a little nervous at the beginning and I forgot to tell my part. Both of my parents weren’t born here. My dad is from Mexico and my mom is from Hong Kong, before it became a part of China. Neither one of them had gone to college. I am the oldest of two and my sister is currently going through the college process so I feel like I’m reliving it myself Trying to help her navigate that. I guess I first decided to really go to college because it was never..I never had a college-going identify until I had decided myself in the eleventh grade Which is when I found Hampshire and I decided that this is the only school for me. And if I didn’t get in, I don’t know if I would survive state school I have this vision of, I was going to make it because my leadership in high school was very strong and I was a really strong member of my community We were all first generation Americans. It was really great to have this sense of, we’re all going through this together. We found strength in ourself that our parents couldn’t offer us and we also went to a college prep school where we only had one guidance counselor for about sixty-seven of us, helping us through the college process, but we never had a counselor to talk about, you know, the emotional state of tying what was going on at home to how that was affecting us in the classroom. So, I got to Hampshire, and I went through my first year not identifying as a first generation college student, not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t know that that was a thing. And it wasn’t until my second year when I took a course with Kristen and Corina Fernandez about college access and college awareness that I had decided that I had brought myself to where I am now and endured a lot of challenges and got through a lot of obstacles to get myself to where I am now. But wouldn’t it be so great if first gen students could spend the time on trying to get to the pace where everyone else is that they just kind of came to college, to Hampshire with If we had spent that time finding more interests or diving deeper into our interests, because its not just about navigating the academics of it, but its also navigating Hampshire as an institution on its own, which is really different from other schools So, even though we may be talking to other first gen students at other schools, the experiences are very different. I talked to Kristen and we found out that this is a common subject area that we wanted to really dive into and created the student group with two other first gen students which is going really great and we’re now working on this Viviana is the driver of this whole thing, I have to say. And the whole thing is – we’ll talk a little bit about – but it is a first generation initiative, where Viviana got the

student group up and going with signers and is doing work with that. She and I have been able to pull together folks in different offices to figure out how when Viviana’s not here anymore, there’s actually a structure that supports first generation initiative We’re thinking as a college about how do we prepare the conditions for first generation students who will be coming more and more to campus. How do we make sure its a place where they thrive? Because there’s only like six of us, I’ll kind of go through here, but we’ll certainly deviate and hit more in discussion By the way, this is utterly exciting to me, it is kind of a hidden, quiet, for whatever reason students may not be talking about it It is also very hidden and quiet among faculty I’ve been working with most of them for what, ten years? Like on committees, everything, I never knew that about you. Right? So, you know, how do we identify ourselves and share experiences and think through and bring in allies like Sue to say, “Help us when we need it,” right? We just want to talk a little about bit about how first gen is defined which is kind of more policy piece, but also then identity as first gen. Talk a little bit about First Scholars at Hampshire and is happening at Hampshire. Spend a little bit of time because first gen students are often perceived as needing support. And indeed, we/they do But, what is often left out of the discussion is what is it that first gen students add to Hampshire? What do they contribute to their own educations? Why is making sure that we’re bringing in more first generation students a really valuable and important goal? Common areas are challenge where support is needed. We’ve made a bunch of scenarios that we thought – I think we’ll talk through them together. And then we identified some best practices but I think we can come out from this discussion generating best practices My hope is to take the ideas that come from our discussion, add them to what Vivianna and I named and make sure that both the video and this listing is available on the Center for Teaching and Learning website We’re going to go over first gen as an identity Some definitions that we have found that are commonly associated with being first gen is parents had at most a high school degree, but no college. Parents had some college, but no degree. Parents had at most a two year, but not a four year degree. With this we were also talking about how the first scholars student group here identify as first gen We notice when trying to reach out to students, asking people if they identify as first gen, was sometimes misinterpreted. Well, I don’t know if I’m first gen was usually the response that we got. So we made it open ended. What does it mean to be first gen to you? And what we had came up with together was that first gen as the identity itself was being defined as the obstacles that we go through and rather, and not, like the parent, parental situation that was going on, because situations really do vary from case to case. So for example, a parent who does have a degree, may not be the parent that has influence within the student’s life Or another example would be an older sibling having gone to college, but the student may not talk to the sibling anymore. We really define it by mentorship and association to people who can provide a college going identity before or during the process of being in college It’s very confusing For me its confusing and complicated because the statistics we are getting about who our first gen students following the bottom discussion But yet, I would hazard to guess the students who would fit into the definition that Vivianna is suggesting, is a much broader group of students who need some net in some way I always like to say, “Why are we talking about this?” One clear way for me to think about it is, so the percent of kindergarten students in 2010. This is the educational background of their parents. So, you’ll see that a great great many. So, if you go by the definition of one or more parents having

a baccalaureate degree, you have what, 30, 32, 21, that’s what? 53 and 10.. 63? Sixty-three percent of students coming down the pike who had the potential to go to college, are first generation students by that definition. So it’s a good number of students that will be coming to us. Hopefully coming to us, right? I was trying to think, get some information on who is coming to college. Who is a first generation student, does that make sense? And one of the studies that I looked at seemed pretty consistent or at least it is cited an awful lot, is from 2011 and it is about one in every five students entering college is a first generation student First generation college student Some general, wide characteristics that Viviana said, who first generation students are, they’re their circumstances are very diverse. And so, but generally some things we can say is that those who tend to enroll in college and graduate do so at a much lower rate than students whose families, who come from a family where parents have some kind of bachelor’s degree. First generation college students are more likely to be low income, to be students from a racial ethnic minority, to not have English as their dominant language, speak English as a second language, live at home or off campus. This is a little; one thing you should also be clear about is the majority of first gen students tend to be more in state universities, community college settings. So, even thinking about how does this imply to a liberal arts setting is interesting And more likely to work full time I think Neil Stillings’ comment at the faculty meeting about he is seeing more and more students coming to him who are doing their Div three and also working full time. I’ve noticed this for a few years. I’m sure its going to continue for us. That this is first gen students coming to us and they’re working. They’re trying to support themselves, their families, be here So, working full time is a piece of that. Take fewer courses or credits per semester At Hampshire..some kind of..do you want to take this? Sure, last year was the first year that Admissions had recorded in record the number, or the percentage of students that were coming in who were first generation college students and that is determined by the FAFSA when they ask what the background, what the education of your parents are. So, the options are some college, no college, high school And we recorded that thirteen percent of the 2014 fall first year class are first generation college students and we also have the James Baldwin Scholars program which is led by Corinna Fernandez and that really brings in students who all identify as first generation college students and there is a lot of support that goes into making sure that those students no only get through the college experience here at Hampshire but also provide resources to continue their success beyond Hampshire. There’s a couple I think they meet weekly. It’s a really tight knit community that really allows you to find people who can connect and relate to you and that build really strong sense, not only are you going to get through this but we’re all going to get through this together That’s really great stuff. The next piece to it is the First Generation College Student group which our group is titled First Scholars and what we do in that group is primarily to support each other through the obstacles that we’re going We’ve had two meetings so far. It’s been really great, because I wrote up a lot of topics that we could potentially discuss in the student group and it was just. In both meetings, it was really great for students to just be like, Oh my gosh, like, you go through that too, and to have that sense of y’know like connection to people that we’ve only seen around campus

but we’ve never interacted with. Some of the topics we discuss are things lost in translation when we’re talking to people. I mean whether it be family and we’re trying to talk what’s going on here at Hampshire or talking to friends about; or friends talking to us about, certain things that we haven’t really gotten a grasp of, or vice versa. Familiar obligations acknowledging intersectionality. I wrote societal pressures. Expectations not only that we have for ourselves, but what is expected of us from our professors, our family, our peers How to find resources and mentorship, and microaggression. Those are some of the topics We also like to do outings into the community into Amherst, outside of Hampshire to get out of this little bubble that we have going on. Not only finding a way to support each other through talking about our challenges but also building community with doing really great fun stuff together. Then we’ve got the First Generation Initiative which is a board of people. I don’t know if I can do all of the names, but I know we have someone from Admissions, from the Culture Center, the director of the James Baldwin Scholars I’m sure I’m missing.. Career options.. a number of people, yeah. And we come together and we talk about where it is that we want this initiative to go and what’s going to be a part of it. How can Hampshire as an institution support first gen students and the retention of first gen students It’s in its infancy, so a part of it is thinking about… One of Viviana’s ideas is how do we do a campaign where faculty may choose to identify themselves so students also may choose to identify themselves. So there’s a media campaign, not a media campaign, like, um, you know what I’m saying Awareness campaign, thank you. (Laughter) And also just kind of harnessing a lot of the program that is already happening. And bringing it together so that it’s… that first gen students are more aware as a body, as a group, as a community, of the kinds of resources and programming that currently exists but then also develop for the program This was the idea to go beyond the deficit model, go beyond a model where we’re just thinking about what are the.. what’s the remediation, what’s the support that people need as they enter into college, but rather thinking about what kinds of capital, what kinds of resources, knowledge, and skills do folks have when they’re coming to college. This model is pulled from a piece by Tarioso who talks about community, cultural wealth. And one of the things that she talks about is aspirational capital. She’s talking primarily here about communities of color, particularly, I think … You might know this piece better.. Is she talking about Latino family communities? Okay, so kind of the notion of aspirational capital that while families may not be able to support, or communities may not be able to support students with financial resources necessarily, or help fill out a FAFSA, or help “can you edit my paper and see if I’m making a good argument” type of resource. They do and are very supportive and provide resources and skills and ways of thinking about what is possible And instilling in students a sense of this is possible for you. You can do what.. you can do this, right? Navigational capital So, generally, having a variety of experiences, navigating and maneuvering through a number of institutions. For some students its that they are the key person navigating through their high school process, their college process It might be through social services process, health care, right? Some students may be translators for their family, primarily, or the primary translators for their family. Whether its by language or by cultural capital. So they’re students are coming to us often with experiences, having navigated a number of institutions Pay the bills,.. yeah.. yeah, paying the bills, yep, absolutely. So, and I put down, just as a, I put down that these are important for making, acknowledge as faculty, as advisers, and to try and understand what are the skills

and knowledge that students are bringing to us and to help make them visible, because I think that often when students enter into this setting, this Hampshire setting, and are feeling kind of without, like they don’t have a compass, that they tend to forget that they’re bringing all of these types of skills and knowledges to college with them Linguistic resources, so several students are very skilled in already kind of; you had talked about translation, both in terms of speaking a particular language and being bilingual or trilingual, but also in terms of coat switching. Going from different kind of communities and speaking across communities Family and community resources What are ways, the stories, the testimonies that families talk about and pass down to their children that kind of bring them forward, give them hope, provide them resources? Resisting capital. So, I mean, one of the ways I think about this, that when I’m reading about first generation college students, one of the things I’m reading about and you may all have felt, is that when something; when there’s a challenge to your work. It’s all of sudden like, oh my god, I’m not good enough, I shouldn’t be here. And so, kind of, having, remembering that there’s been many times when there’s been messages or efforts to kind of stop students. Or tell them they shouldn’t be where they are and I think, I’m bringing this specifically to students. and then resisting and going through and pushing through This is a list that the First Scholars, we came up with together at our last weekly meeting, and we sat down and I asked the question, “As first gen, we need a lot of support in certain places, but what do we have to offer?” What makes being a first generation college student a positive thing? At first, we sat there and just looked at each other and had to give each other a couple of examples to get this thing going, but once we started, they were speaking faster than my pencil was writing. Just a couple of things to highlight I’ll go through the list. We are experienced problem solvers. We know how to get ourselves out of difficult situations. If some of these aren’t clear, please feel free to ask a little more about them. We have self motivation We persevere. We don’t procrastinate because we know it is going to take us twice as long to get through something so we work our schedules out to fit our academic needs. What I mean by that is, a lot of us had expressed that sometimes readings can take a lot longer for us compared to our peers because there is a lot of vocabulary that we may not be familiar with, but we’ll take the time to pull up a Webster dictionary or whatever it is that we need in order to better understand that word so that we can understand the context in which it is being used. We do well at finding different methods of learning. We’ve got strong work ethics. We work hard and diligently We are observant. We examine and pick up subtle cues in various situations. We know how to develop critical questions. We know how to dissect complex ideas and get roots. We know how to ask for help when we need it. We are open minded and curious. We bring cultural wealth back to our families. Going a little more into being open minded and curious: a lot of us were talking about how sometimes we question things so much because we don’t understand it. That it almost seems, not that we’re trying to get every single piece of it, but that’s what we need in order to understand something. We want to view it at every angle and really dissect it as much as possible Sometimes it can come off as we’re asking too many questions, but its just so that we can really get to its roots and consider all the ways to interact; to take what it is that we’re trying get out of this piece that we’re reading. We bring cultural wealth back to our families. We bring cultural capital to Hampshire. We build strong communities. We plant seeds of knowledge in our communities

We are resilient. Just a little more on that: we’re not only in college to benefit us, to get ourselves an education so that we can live a better life. I think personally, having my mom, having come to the US so that I could go to college is a really big motivator for me. I’m not only striving for a better future for myself, but so that my mom can see that everything; all the sacrifices that she made were for a reason. And I think it ties back into that familial piece. We bring positive change to our lives and the lives of people around us. A lot of the students in the group were talking about how their parents; One student was talking about how her parents had decided to go back to community college to take a course and they had that moment of “I see what you’re doing; you’re trying to talk to me about what you’re doing and I want to do that too. I want to get an education for myself.” Our experiences help other see different points of view and understand issues of access with more empathy. We value education We know that the reality is it is more a privilege than a right. What I mean by this is, our parents didn’t have that privilege of going, of pursuing higher education, and for them it was a lot about getting into that work field and really supporting your families so that they could; that we could go to college A lot of it is access to and its a question of, I guess not so much which.. It’s more so of a question of which college are you going to go to because, I guess for me it was like my parents just wanted to leave that up to me. But there was also the undertone of I really want you to go so that you can have a better future. It is access in regards to going out there and getting the best for us, but not necessarily know what it is that may be the best for us at that time. We don’t assume higher education is a rite of passage and I was going to say, last, but not least, this is definitely not the last, but last on this list, is our experiences and contributions provide discussions with a fresh perspective It was a lot of fun writing this; putting this together The little notes you all got in your boxes were also a product of this meeting and the scenarios were also a product of this meeting This group really helped inform this session Common areas of challenge. What are the things from the literature, from experience that we know are trouble spots? The idea of thinking about what’s education for? Having an understanding that when students come to us, they might be thinking, “What am I going to do with this?” “What’s the career?” “Where is this taking me?” And we all have people trying to think of what is a concentration? But if there’s a piece of it, that is about “What do I do with this?” it might end up pushing out some options. An example is “Why would I take a philosophy course? I have no understanding of what that would do for me. How is that going to help me get to where I want to be?” Being prepared to talk with students about both where they are going, but also the life of the mind. Why is that also very significant Explicit and implicit rules or expectations for assignments. I think this is particularly a difficult issue at Hampshire. Across the faculty, we all have very different ways of doing things. That alone is really difficult That a lot of our processes are not necessarily written down in clear ways. I was in a meeting today and someone was saying, “Okay, we’ve submitted the Div two faculty request form Now are we supposed to contact faculty? Or are they going to contact us? I’m not sure what to do. Am I going to get a chair if I don’t contact them?” There was a sense of ‘Am I doing the right thing?’ And I think

that happens at the level of getting through the college process here at Hampshire, but it is also the idea of when you are talking in your classroom about “What’s a good paper? What does it look like? What do you expect in it? Is it listed in your syllabus?” Real important things that you must have in your paper in order for you to be saying, “Wow, Viviana, that’s amazing!” Are you talking about what your feedback means? In the sense that, I’ll tell my students, no matter what you hand me, I’m going to tell you it is great here and here and here, but also, no matter where you are, my job is always to provide you feedback and your paper is going to be marked, all over the place. No matter what Because I learned that I never used to say that, and students would freak out when they’d get a paper back and some would not want to continue. Because it is critical feedback It is not “Woo hoo, Viviana, great job.” Talking through the hidden curriculum of the college; the hidden culture of the college around assignments I also think that some of the difficulty is engaging in discussion, engaging in classroom discussion particularly How do you enter into that? What is a thoughtful kind of question? Can students even ask questions? One of the things that came out of one of the studies is that the idea of questioning the author, the researcher How would I know this? Who am I as a first year student going to be able to take up and take apart and think through and critique this person who published a paper? The sense of how do I ask of how do I ask good questions, both in a classroom and what right do I have to ask questions? How do we use office hours? How do we engage students and tell them and teach them about what could happen in office hours and why they should go? Boundaries. Professor, student. Forms of address is one thing Should I be called Professor Luschen? Should I be called Kristen? When you write me an email, I’d appreciate if you said, “Hello Kristen,” or sign your name, things like that Professional etiquette. Or student etiquette, I should say. But also then what are the boundaries? When do you get to see me outside of the classroom? When don’t you? When do I get to contact you outside of the classroom and when don’t I? Being really clear with our expectations and what we expect Family / school commitments. You brought that up before but often being really alert and aware I’ve been thinking through with students about the pulls that they have between there for their families and being present for their academics Persistence in the face of academic challenge. I’ve already mentioned that there is some evidence that early feedback that is not necessarily like “Here are the great things that you did and also.” That can really jar students. Especially for students that are coming from places that they are really quite the stars in their schools and then they are coming to Hampshire and it is like “Am I behind?” “I thought I knew what I was doing.” Does that sound familiar? Very Encountering / combatting micro-aggression. For first year students, around class, around race, around language I’m hearing messages everyday that are suggesting that you are not enough. That you are not right That you don’t belong here. Being the object vs the subject of study A student that I worked with over time here. The first year, I didn’t think that she was ever going to come back and see me She took a class with me, “The American School” and I had students do a digital story about coming to college. We were reading all of this material about schools and inequality

She said, “I never realized I was working class until I came here. I didn’t know what that meant.” And she suddenly saw herself in this discussion, as now it was her that we were discussing And she was removed from the discussion, having to talk about her community So, being an object of the classroom discussion, versus the subject of the classroom discussion Or being a subject who could enter in, but at that point she didn’t even feel comfortable to even enter in Role of experience and purpose. What are we learning? Why are we learning this? What’s the point? Family identity shifts. You had talked about straddling your home culture and your school culture and how do you do that? For many of us, that is always very interesting, complex piece for different reasons (music playing)