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Yasmiyn Irizarry @DrYasmiyn
, 25 tweets, 10 min read Read on Twitter
The needs of #firstgen students are often thought of in relation to the experiences of #secondgen students, defined by scholars as students whose parent has earned a 4-year degree, and presumably can guide or assist their #secondgen child in navigating the higher ed experience.
But what happens when a student has a parent with a 4-year degree who lacks the necessary financial, intellectual, social, or cultural capital to successfully assist their child? I would like to share my story and propose a third category, that I'm calling #oneptfivegen.
My mom was #firstgen to the US and college, making her the first true trailblazer. According to scholars, this makes me #secondgen American and undergrad. While being #secondgen American is a unique experience, being a #secondgen student is not.
But if I am truly #secondgen, then why was my college experience so much closer to that of my #firstgen friends than to other #secondgen students I knew? I believe the answer lies in the assumption that degree=capital b/c degree=experience, which excludes cases where degree≠exp
My mother had only lived in the US for two years when she decided to go to college. She applied to only one school, Rutgers Newark, which was located just 20 min from her home. Though hers was a truly #firstgen experience, my mother rarely if ever talked about her time in college
This is where she completed a bachelor's degree in social work. With limited English literacy and while caring for a terminally ill child. Then she did what many #firstgen students of color do. She took a middle class job with working class wages.
I love my mother and believe that she is truly exceptional, because what she lacked in capital, she made up for threefold with her tenacity. But tenacity doesn’t pay for applications fees or tuition and housing, and it can’t replace the benefits of knowledge and networks.
Fast forward 17 years. After 3 cities in 3 years, we settled in a small apt. and shared a bedroom. I was a senior at Immaculate Conception, a Catholic college prep school with a working class, mostly black and brown student body from Newark and the Oranges. I also worked 2 jobs.
While going to college was never in question, where I would go and how to cover the cost sure were. We knew very little about academic rankings and even less about the many of majors available to college students. All I knew is that I wanted to be a doctor (if not that, a lawyer)
I received tons of mail from colleges. But my strategy was simple: apply anywhere that waived the application fee. We survived the FAFSA, essays, and rec letters (Thanks to @ICHSMontclair). I got several acceptance letters-though most felt like rejections due to lack of funding.
In the end I decided to attend Ohio State, not b/c I’m from Ohio or like football (don’t tell anyone I said this), or b/c the school was ranked X or offered major Y or program Z. But because they believed in me AND backed it up with a full ride as a Distinction Scholar. #GoBucks
I arrived to orientation with Timberlands, big hoops, dark lipstick, heavy urban accent. Columbus wasn’t ready!
I went to the math placement test without a calculator. I didn't know what to major in, who to speak to about course options, or even what a course catalog was. I had no degree plan. No plan at all really other than to work hard like in HS. I didn’t know the “rules” of college.
I moved into a quad, the cheapest dorm option available. I got a job almost immediately. I depended on the campus health care center and Planned Parenthood. I signed up for credit cards for the “free” pizza and soda.
I relied on my adviser. My first quarter course schedule included Chemistry (because I liked it in HS plus the whole premed thing), Japanese (because I took Karate for a couple months and am a glutton for punishment), and Calculus for Engineers (don't even ask how that happened).
My first quarter, I got very sick and missed the last three weeks of class. As soon as I was better, I tried to make arrangements, but had missed the drop date. I was forced to take a failing grade in Chemistry and retake it the following quarter using Freshman forgiveness.
I was kicked out of the honors college and almost lost my scholarship after my first year. And then I got pregnant. And I thought “I can’t study to be a doctor with a kid.” So I decided to switch to law because that’s easier, right? #ShoulderShrug
I had no clue what I wanted to major in until I took Intro to Soc. Thank goodness for social & behavioral credit reqs. I worked over the summer and saved money. I bought baby furniture at a church rummage sale. I signed up for WIC and food stamps. I got a small apt. near campus.
I worked, and hustled, and went to class, and somewhere in between I had my baby. I declared my major in Soc. And people asked me again and again if I was planning to be a social worker. 15 years later friends and extended family will still ask me this sometimes. SMH
College was hard [work]. I can honestly say that there were many days where fake it til I make it was my motto. But it worked out in part because so many random things came together in exactly the right alignment.
Finding sociology, a subject I had never heard of. The support of OSU faculty and staff, who shared many key opportunities with me. All the benefits of participating in the Access program for single parents (and selecting a school with support for single parents to begin with).
In less than a year, that baby from long ago will be heading to college. For 17 years, universities have been my kiddo's playground. Even though I very little savings or wealth, I have accrued a wealth of knowledge about how university's work, making my kiddo the true #secondgen.
My mother sparked my passion for education many years ago (and has continued to fuel it with love and encouragement), but in many ways, I have had to forge my own path as a #firstgen faculty, much like I did as a #firstgen grad student, and #oneptfivegen undergrad.
#Firstgen students need our steadfast support. But for benefits to accrue across generations, we must also support the #secondgen children of #firstgen graduates. Especially when the knowledge and resources of their #firstgen parents is limited.
Because earning a degree produces capital, but it does not guarantee it. The same challenges that limit how much #firstgen students are able to engage with and learn from their college experience can also shape how much help they can provide their own children down the road.
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