As part of their First Generation Appreciation Week, the Associated Students of Michigan State University, or ASMSU, hosted a student panel Wednesday night to discuss ways to enhance the experience of first-generation students.
The first-generation students at the panel shared a variety of reasons why they initially decided to come to MSU.
“Honestly, I didn’t even know what I wanted to do,” Social Relations and Policy junior and ASMSU Vice President of Academic Affairs Brianna Aiello said. “I knew I liked politics and then I just happened one time to run into someone who had gone to James Madison. They’re like ‘Oh, you’d be perfect for this.’ So I kinda just applied not knowing what it was.”
The panel also shared the trials and tribulations of first-generation students' first day of classes at MSU.
ASMSU President Mario Kakos shared his Fall Convocation story about ending up at McDonald’s while trying to get to class in McDonel Hall. ASMSU Vice President for Student Allocations Dylan Catalano reflected on his first class in James Madison.
All of the students agreed that they felt like they didn’t belong in college and that they weren’t prepared.
“I just remembered being like ‘Oh, I’m already behind’,” Catalano said. “‘College, I’m not fit for it. Like, I don’t have the necessary tools to achieve what I want to achieve here.’ And I just remember going back to my dorm room and shutting the door and being like ‘I don’t belong here.’”
Students on the panel said their advisors and mentors have helped them the most on their journey through college as a first-generation student. Senior Dante Booker, BSA’s ASMSU General Assembly representative, believed that finding a community within the huge university was essential to his adjustment to MSU.
“Honestly, to be completely transparent, I hate school,” Booker said. “The only reason I’m successful at school is there’s other stuff to supplement it. Without BSA, ASMSU, and other stuff I wouldn’t have made it this far ... so once I found that, it definitely was a good resource to help me stay focused. I had something else to help me get through it.”
While there are resources for first-generation students, the panelists said that having more visibility and having faculty support would improve their experiences.
“Having faculty that are (first-generation) announce that they’re (first-generation) more often, like acknowledge it,” Aiello said. “Or maybe in their office they have something that says that they are (first-generation). I think talking to someone who went through a similar experience as you, but is now in a position of power and they have a higher education, I think that would be helpful.”
The panel said they want MSU to work toward making first-generation students feel like they belong.
“I feel like if you are in that space, they need to put in effort to make sure that you feel comfortable in that space,” Booker said. “They’re scouting these students and want them to come here and brag about them being here, and then they are here and they’re not comfortable. Then, they are not successful.”