Working with a group of colleagues last summer who had been first generation college students, we were a ways into our first conversation when someone asked “is it ok to talk about the anger?”
It felt as if everyone relaxed a bit after that point. There are many “feel good” first generation stories, and those certainly need to be told. Yet there is also the anger — at the hidden rules, the patronizing, the casual privilege all around, the invisibility, the hunger, the arrogance, the nonsense that sometimes passes for wisdom.
So I’m grateful that Jocelyne Cardona speaks of the whole experience in this piece from the Macalester College newsletter. It’s worth reading the whole thing. A taste:
“How are they going to fit in the flow, in the stream of things and not get totally consumed or washed away in that process,” McClure asks. “What capital do [first-generation students] bring to the table that is going to contribute to a broader story?”
For Cardona, on a practical level, this openness has been hard to come by – especially in the classroom.
In her assignments for class, Cardona slips in sentences of Spanish, refusing to italicize this language that she feels belongs in her writing. She sometimes works poetry into her academic papers. She writes essays addressed to her professors about the production of knowledge and value of different kinds of input.
But the confidence to assert her own experience and knowledge in the classroom setting did not come immediately. For years, Cardona was alienated, forced to question her own capacity to succeed.
“I felt like I couldn’t say what I wanted to say. I felt dumb. I felt like I was not smart,” she said. “I felt like what these people were saying was way over my head. And certain professors made me feel that way.”