First-Gen Students describe life at LC

Photo by Ariel McGee

By Ariel McGee

Many students at Lewis & Clark College are the first in their families to attend a higher education institution. LC offers some assistance to first-generation (first-gen) students such as the Lead Explore Achieve Discover (LEAD) fly-in program and the Leading to Engage All Pioneers (LEAP) mentorship program.

According to the LC website, the Great Expectations (GE) program is designed to help incoming first-generation college students and students of color transition into LC. As a part of GE, first-gen students are invited to attend a two-day off campus retreat where they have direct access to staff, faculty, students, alumni and resources.

“What’s really interesting for first-gen students here is that the LEAD fly-in program has about 30 students, but in reality there are very few first-gen and minority students here,” Sabrina Cerquera ’20 said. “The way that the school presents their diversity and inclusion can be really discouraging to first-gen students.”

Additionally, first-gen students can face many obstacles when it comes to applying to, and attending, college.

“I don’t always know who to go to for advice or help and there are moments of hopelessness.” Cerquera said. “It was hard to find help applying to colleges because I didn’t  really know where I should apply. I needed to apply wherever would give me the most money. They ask you so many demographic questions, they are very hard to answer. I knew students who had to go to the library to apply to college, it isn’t accessible to everyone. And if I can’t even afford to apply to school, how am I going to afford to go to school?”

Oftentimes, being a first-gen student can become part of a student’s identity, which can be both empowering and difficult.

“The majority of the first-gen students I know are Hispanic or Latino, so they are juggling multiple identities,” Cerquera said.

Lani Felicitas ’18 is a first-gen student at LC. She is from Hawaii, and living so far from her family can make attending college even more difficult.

“Being first-gen is tied to so many other parts of myself,” Felicitas said. “I don’t have family anywhere on this continent, which means that I don’t have family to rely on for holiday meals or travelling.”

Being the first person in your family to go to college can create ideological divides between family members.

“My family is proud of me, but they want me to get into a career right out of college, and I’m just not there yet,” Felicitas said. “I just want life experience and they don’t really understand that. My mom just wants me to have one job because she works three jobs.”

In addition to first gen students, there are second generation students. Their parents were the first people in the family to attend college, and that can affect the future they invision for their children.

Patrick Sullivan ’21 comes from first-gen parents.

“My dad expects a hell of a lot from me,” Sullivan said. “I understand why, because he literally came from nothing. My parents made it a no-choice decision. I was expected to go to a four-year college and work during the summer. That was that.”

First- and second-generation students have to figure out college life apart from their families. This can be a difficult experience and transition.

“My mom and my grandma and my siblings are really proud of me,” Cerquera said. “In moments of hopelessness I call my sister and she tells me to think about how I’m setting an example for others. I’m showing that it’s possible to take down the barriers that have been placed.”

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