First generation student concerns and experiences discussed at roundtable
Michigan State University started off its first ever First Generation Appreciation Week with a roundtable discussion between students and university employees Tuesday night.
"We just want to celebrate first generation students and their success and also validate their challenges well and see how was can make their experience better at MSU," business-preference freshman Malan Manwaring said.
Manwaring was an instrumental part of implementing First Generation Appreciation Week. When she was asked to help run events related to first generation students, she decided to make it a full week.
The discussion covered topics like resources available to first generation students, the challenges they face and the individuality of all of their experiences.
Without parents who can provide an understanding of the way college works, first generation students can find themselves trying to figure things out on their own, often missing key resources.
"I figured that, since I was going to class and doing the work, that everything I needed to do was being done," East Neighborhood Director of Student Success Kevin Reeves said. "Where there were so many other things that I could have gotten involved in or services that I could have taken advantage of that would have made my experience more efficient and more effective."
According to the Department of Education, the definition of a first generation student is one whose parents did not complete a bachelor's degree in college. Universities are able to come up with their own definitions for the term.
"We've got to get students to not be afraid to ask questions," River Trail Neighborhood Director of Student Success Jodie Roberto-Hamcock said. "We have to get committed professionals who want to work with students, and don't make them feel stupid and are patient with them."
While MSU typically uses the Department of Education's definition of first generation students, there are many variations on the term.
Some universities discount students' first generation status if either parent has attended any college education, and some limit the term to when parents have received associates degrees.
"We know there are certain things that students who participate in benefit from," Roberto-Hamcock said. "MSU has been, in my experience, very hesitant to make those things required, and I'm a huge proponent that if we know those things are beneficial to students, I wish that we would make them mandatory."
During the conversation, a discourse about breaking the stigma around the term began. People discussed their own struggles of becoming proud of being first generation student, and how to better address first generation students' concerns.
"You just assume that you're the only one, but anything that has a label infixed into it, you feel like, 'I'm the only one that falls into that category,' but what you don't realize is that almost half the nation identifies as first gen," Reeves said. "If you knew who those folks were on campus, it gives you a better sense of community. You realize that there are things you don't know, there are things that they don't know, but if you guys work together, or with the institution, explore together, that it makes the experience more palatable."