Excellent Work on First Generation Issues

For readers interested in First Generation students and the challenges they face on campus (and beyond), I highly recommend Lynda Lopez’s First Generation Students blog and Twitter feed.

Lynda was active in starting national and campus “Class Confessions” conversations around socioeconomic issues while an undergraduate at the University of Chicago and in advocating for First Generation and Low Income students at U of C.

I posted her Class Action essay on 10 Most Classist Things About College on my campus’s Equity and Inclusion Facebook page and it was shared widely across departments.

I don’t know anyone more knowledgable about how First Generation students are faring at elite colleges around the country.  I’ve learned a ton from her.

You’ll learn a lot from her, too.

First Generation Student Voices: The Generosity Abounds


Jane Presenting 2 (2)

Two days into this campaign to raise funds for First Generation Student digital storytelling workshops around the country, and I’m humbled by the generosity.

We have $5 donations from students, $100 donations from old college friends  that I haven’t seen for years, multiple donations from academic peeps who get that together, we can fund what foundations and grant makers won’t.

But it’s only day three, and we still have a ways to go.

We were advised by our coaches to be cautious in setting our target, even while this project needs at least twice that $5000.

It’s very exciting that we’re on target to blast past that caution and fully fund this project.

Perhaps our coaches didn’t get that First Gen Students and their supporters are tenacious.

I hope that you’ll join us, with $5, $50, or more.     Student voices will be heard in these deliberations about how First Generation Students can thrive in college.


Hearing the Stories of First Generation Students













I spent almost all of my years in school and much of my young adulthood trying to hide that I did not have enough money for the things I needed — and wanted.

So it is a new and frankly exciting experience for me to be planning the launch of a “crowdfunding” campaign with an amazing team, most of whom were  first-generation students themselves.  We have a powerful idea, and now we’re inviting friends, family, colleagues, and anyone who knows the importance of hearing others’ stories to pitch in with $5 or $50 –or even just the generosity of sharing news about the campaign with others.

We will create a “mobile story lab” to take to campuses across the country to craft digital stories of Being First. We’ll share these stories on campuses and in a digital archive.  These stories will be heard.

In the workshops, we’ll work together for three days to find our stories and to then weave together recordings of our voices, our images and video clips, and sound to represent the complexities of crossing social borders into the world of college, that world where many of us felt both more at home and more alone than we had in any other place.

We will be launching our campaign on Monday.  I’ll update here when we launch.

I’d be honored if you would join us!

Listening to First Generation Students: You can help

Gentle Readers,

If you’ve been at Education and Class for any time at all, you’ll know of my commitments to First Generation students, my growing interest in digital media for amplifying voices that would not otherwise be heard, and my particular interest in bringing these two areas together.

With my partners Class Action, I’m launching a project to take digital storytelling workshops to campuses across the country. Because it is so challenging to find funding through traditional foundations and grants for projects in which we *listen* to First Generation students before rushing in to try to fix what ails them, we are experimenting with Crowd Funding this project.

I’d be very very grateful if readers of this blog would join this project by being part of the network who will be publicizing the project launch and then updates along the way.   Our platform (and academic-only site) will provide you with some video-based training and ideas for spreading the word.  You’d post on your blogs, Facebook pages, emails to supporters of First Gen students, or other networks.

This would take less than an hour a week.  You’d be making it possible for First Gen students across the country to work together to craft elegant multi-media stories of their time in college, you’ll be learning something about fund-raising for projects that don’t interest more conventional funders, and you’ll be part of creating a digital portal for these stories so that we can all learn from the storytellers.

If you’d be willing to consider helping us to spread the word about this project as we approach launch (Planned for October  27),  and then during the four week campaign, you can  find much more information at the link below:

Champion Sign Up Page

Thank you so much!


Blaming Parents of First Generation Students for What Colleges Don’t Simply Do

There are so many problems with this essay in today’s Inside Higher Ed about the parents of First-Generation college students.

I first cringed when reading this quote from a college administrator early on:

They give him a $100 and send them off to school. ‘Here’s 100 bucks. That should last you four years. Now, go save the family.’”

As if there is no difference between being able to provide particular emotional support for the distinctive stresses of being a college student and abandoning one’s child altogether — while putting considerable pressure on them — and as if low-income parents have no idea about budgeting and the costs of living.

And the disturbing language continues:

If so-called helicopter parents typically hover above students from more elite and educated families, many first-generation college students have the opposite problem: parents who may as well be watching their children from a space station. [italics mine]

Again, the language here implies that parents have receded to isolated  “watching”, not still celebrating birthdays or holidays, nagging about late hours on home visits, taking joy in just having the child home sometimes, being proud, or maybe even making favorite meals when one comes home.

But no. Blame is the story here:

Those less-supported students also reported having higher levels of stress and anxiety than the few first-generation students who did feel supported by their parents.

There is no possible way without rigorous controlled experiments to attribute stress and anxiety among first-generation students to parent support rather than to anything else within the constellation of other differences — having no money for social events that other students take for-granted, hearing stereotypes about people like them in class, having  to work more hours than any student should, facing professors who have no idea how to provide basic academic support yet convey their impatience with you for needed it, having everyone take for granted that the upper-middle class students are the  norm and you are an outsider.

And then we got to the heart of the matter:

Marilyn Moller, director of teacher education at Rosemont College, said it’s important to remember that those phone calls [from interfering “helicopter” parents of more privileged students]– as annoying as they can be — are rarely coming from the parents of low-income and first-generation students.  “I really don’t see that as much anymore, and especially with these kinds of students,” Moller said. “I hope for phone calls. Often times, with these students, a parent may be his or her only advocate.”


“The problem is that many these parents know nothing about college,” he said. “Students with parents that didn’t go to college don’t have that person they can call when they have a question. They have no map. That child is lost.”

And as I read these last statements I feel begin to feel the familiar tension in my jaw, the familiar frustration and anger and impatience.

I read that it is just taken for granted that there is nowhere at college where a student can ask basic question.

I read that no one has provided students with the basic map of what is expected of her.

I read that no one notices and steps in when a student is “lost”.

I read that no one takes responsibility for being an advocate for a student who needs an advocate to get through all of this.

But it’s the parents’ fault.

I have no idea how much of the tone of this article by Jake New is New’s own naiveté (he’s a relatively recent addition to the Inside Higher Ed line-up and seems mostly to report on things requiring less social context).   I have no idea how well this reflects attitudes of colleges more generally.

I’m just grateful that at my college, I  was told where to go with questions, told where to go when I was lost, had any number of faculty and staff I’d count as advocates, and knew that my parents were in my corner, even if they had no advice about the professor who simply refused to give me an A (and refused to explain what I needed to do differently) and could rarely afford to do more than buy me a bag of groceries once in awhile.

And I’m very grateful that at the college where I now work, we’re in constant conversation about how we can better serve our many First-Generation students.

Because we are so clear that it’s our job to support all the students who come to us with so much promise and such immense dreams.