My most pivotal moment in higher education was my very first day of college. It was my 18th birthday. I had just left the dorm room in which I shared with a White, upper class girl whose enthusiastic and curious approach to our relationship confused me at first. Why was she so interested in learning about me? I was uncomfortable sharing details of my not so privileged upbringing with her because I worried she would judge me. She couldn’t understand. I walked out of my dorm that morning and got lost on campus. I couldn’t find my class. No one talked to me or even met my eyes when I searched around for help. I finally got to class and my professor began lecturing on a topic I was not yet familiar with, but other students were raising their hands and participating in the lecture like they had known this information their whole lives. Was I supposed to know this information? I later realized that everyone in the class had already purchased the required textbook, but I was awaiting my financial aid disbursement the following week to buy my own copy. I later vented to my roommate about how I felt in my first class and she was so confused as to why my parents, or high school counselors, did not tell me what to expect on my first day of college.
I had no idea how hard or easy college would be. I don’t know where my third grade dream of getting a scholarship and going to college came from. I don’t know how I feel about being viewed as an anomaly to my family and the community in which I was raised.
I am a Black, female, first-generation college student from Compton, CA. I was accepted and given a full academic scholarship to Loyola Marymount University after years of striving for perfect grades and valuable experiences that would prepare me for college. I am in my last semester of my Master’s of Education program at the University of Southern California and am just now discovering the gaps in my preparation and transitions that could have been eased by the availability of additional resources. Conversations with my first college roommate, my first White friend, grew to conversations of embracing difference and teaching one another about how those differences have meaning to us. My growing friendship with my roommate was an isolated space on my college’s campus. No one else was that curious, no one else cared to offer me the insight I lacked as a first-generation college student. I now wonder how I can contribute to creating more of these spaces. How can I make a first-generation student’s first day of class a better experience for them? How can high schools, communities, university administrators help?
I didn’t know I would commit myself to serving students like myself in their pursuits of higher education. I didn’t know how much a college campus could influence my goals, identities, beliefs, and values. I didn’t know what equity was or why it mattered to me. I didn’t know why colorblindedness was detrimental to promoting an inclusive, accepting society until I went to college. I didn’t know who I was or who I was meant to be, until I went to college.
I do know that every single student, despite their background, SES, religion, ethnicity, or gender identity, deserves a space to share their differences and learn from others’. Every student deserves adequate preparation and guidance toward a successful college experience. It is now my responsibility to make a contribution, big or small, to as many students’ success as possible.
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