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  • Mikayla Boyd

Inside the mind of a first-gen college student

By: Mikayla Boyd

As a sophomore at Canisius University, I feel welcomed by my community in so many ways, and I feel so grateful to have the opportunity to attend this place that has earned the tagline “where leaders are made.” I feel even more grateful to be here and to be the first in my family to go to college — something that I’ve learned a lot of people here cannot relate to. I still look back on my first days of orientation, filled with many seminars and speeches. A particular one had an exercise that involves standing if the announced statement applies to you.

Things start off pretty basic like “Stand if you’re from New York,” and almost everybody was standing at that point. Things progressively got more specific until we were almost done with the activity, which is when I heard them say, “Stand if you’re the first in your family to attend college.” The majority of remaining people take their seats. I don’t. I felt the eyes of those who were sitting on the other standing few and myself. I’m not sure what they were feeling. Maybe pity, maybe sympathy, maybe even admiration — who knows? All I know is that I will probably never forget that moment.

The struggle of being a first-generation college student in a lot of ways feels like an invisible internal conflict. For myself, I deal with a lot of imposter syndrome, which involves persistent feelings of self-doubt and anxiety. Studies have shown that first-generation students are significantly less likely to finish a bachelor’s degree than continuing-generation students.

One of the ways to overcome the stress of being a first-generation student is to connect with other first-generation students by sharing experiences and coping strategies, and talking about feelings… all of these help to ease the burden we face. These interactions also hold first-gen students accountable.

There is a first-gen honor society, Tri Alpha, for those who may not be aware, and a “first-gen week” around Nov. 8 (First Gen College Celebration Day) yearly, but there need to be more opportunities earlier in one’s college experience to solidify that we value them. We should be making sure they know they belong here and that they are capable of achieving their goals.

I would love to see something like a first-gen mentorship or first-gen club on campus.

Our very own university president is the first in his family to attend college — I, for one, believe that this needs to be highlighted within our community. A first-gen success story like President Stoute’s should be celebrated! It should also come along with strong programs to encourage and support first-generation college students. In following our Jesuit values, I think it’s about time we practice some cura personalis and give our first-generation students some personalized support and recognition.

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