Tuesday, June 1, 2021

First-generation students and scholars struggle

There has been increasing recognition of the struggles that first-generation students face in going to college. The National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) and the Suder Foundation initiated the "First-Gen Forward" project to increase the focus on success within this group and to recognize institutions committed to this goal.

In addition to undergraduate students, first-generation graduate students and scholars face barriers as well. Kelly Craig, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Utah, expressed that the resilience that first-generation graduate students bring to their studies and work is typically unrecognized. Matthew Jerome Schneider, an assistant professor at UNC-Pembroke, described the awkwardness of being asked to comment on his research agenda in a new graduate student welcome session, a task that his fellow graduate students seemed to understand all to well and were enthusiastic to answer.

For students and for aspiring and advancing scholars, first-generation naiveté is often an unrecognized barrier. Those who have not come from first-generation experiences do not understand the privilege that they bring to academic circles where there are many unwritten rules, customs, and expectations. These privileges do not all of a sudden disappear once the doctoral degree is granted or an academic assignment is secured. Seasoned academics know about the importance of networks, riding the coattails of significant leaders in the field, and publishing in the journals that result in the greatest number of citations of one's work.

The disadvantages of first-generation naiveté impact all those who seek to advance in the academic world. For those whose cross-sectional identities include other barriers such as sex, race, language, or other difference, striving to enter and excel in academic circles is even harder. If higher education seeks to be more representative of the population at large, these disadvantages have to be highlighted and addressed.

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