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Saint Mary’s students, faculty discuss struggles faced by first generation college students

| Friday, March 1, 2019

Saint Mary’s hosted the First-Generation Student Panel Thursday night in the basement of the Student Center explored the difficulties that these students may face. It featured two College faculty members — associate professor of communication sciences and disorders Susan Latham and professor of social work Leonardo Sanchez. Seniors Shameka Turner and Sonia Torres also spoke at the panel.

The discussion topics focused around the setbacks a first-generation student has to deal with, as well as what the two students have learned by attending college and how their experiences have benefited them.

“I didn’t know any first-generation students when I came to college,” Latham said.

The inability to access the “hidden curriculum,” or the knowledge of how a college student is expected to behave based on what they have unconsciously learned from their college-educated parents, was a setback in her days at Saint Mary’s, Latham said.

The panel speakers said every student’s experiences as a first-generation student will differ, but they can all find ways to help and support each other.

Torres and Turner recommended the Writing Center as a valuable resource to assist with any issues that might come up when writing papers or doing projects.

“The Writing Center is very helpful because I talk with a lot of slang, and it is sometimes hard not to not write how I speak,” Turner said.

Torres said she recommends asking friends to assist with revising and asking professors for help.

“I didn’t have older siblings to send my papers to so they could fix them, but I learned that friends can be helpful and give feedback on papers,” Torres said. “I also always bother my professors because they know how to help me — my parents don’t know how to be an accounting major.”

Despite the hardships, the panelists said acting as a role model for community members and family back home is one of the best parts of being a student.

“I think my favorite thing about [being a first generation student] is that graduating is no longer for me, but for [my parents] and my siblings,” Torres said. “You set the foundation, and you are that role model whether you want to be or not.”

Turner said her parents see her as a role model for going to college, despite the admiration she holds for them.

“My dad looks up to me, even though I look up to him,” Turner said. ”He [says], ‘You are doing something positive,’ ‘You’re trying to better yourself,’ ‘I am proud of you.’ Even though he doesn’t always say it, I know he means it that way and appreciates me.”

When asked what advice she may give a fellow first-generation student, Latham said staying true to oneself and understanding everyone deserves to be accepted in a college environment is very important.

“You are important and you are valuable,” she said. “You have every reason to be here, just as much as anyone else. There are disadvantages, but that doesn’t diminish the value of you as a person and why you should be here. I think that’s part of what you are supposed to do in college, is figure out who you are … figure out how you are going to contribute to the world. That is amazing and remarkable and you should focus on that.”

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