My Experience Being a Low-Income, First Generation Student

My Experience Being a Low-Income, First Generation Student

At my expensive, private college being both first-gen and low income is something not a lot of students can relate to; and it sometimes sucks.
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It is almost time for move in day on college again. Another year of bright faced freshman scared and unsure what they will encounter during the next four years. Everyone is unsure of how they are going to make friends, if they have enough meal swipes, where their classes are, and for first generation, low income, single parent, or really any student who is not the classic middle class WASP the experience is different. I cannot speak for what it is like to be a racial minority on campus but I can for what it is like to be a low income, first generation college student from a single parent household on a predominately white, rich campus. So that is what I am going to talk about today.

The differences start really the first day. Everyone talks about what their parents do. I have a few friends whose parents are lawyers, someone owns an IT company, someone else owns a medical supply company, and one of my friend’s dad is a friggin Ambassador. Most people accept my mom worked for Macy’s at the time but some kids gave you this look of confusion, almost like they are wondering how I got into my school. A lot of people think you mean your parent has a cooperate job and when they find out it is in store give you a look of confusion and once I was asked if I was poor, because apparently some people think that is perfectly acceptable to ask. So immediately lines are drawn in the sand of who you can be friends with (trust me you don’t want to be friends with someone who judges someone on what job they have).

Then people start talking about were their parents went to college and what they majored in, this is where it came out for me that I was first gen. A lot of people are completely fine with this fact since my college does have a decent first generation enrollment for its caliber. But some people take personal offense to that. I have been told on multiple occasions that I “do not seem like a first-gen student” because apparently first-gen is supposed to act a certain way. I’m never sure how to reply for those.

Since money is tight I obviously had to get a job. I know a lot of students who get jobs so I am not alone in that experience. However, our understanding of money is very different. A lot of my friends though I could go out more or afford nicer restaurants (we’re talking $20 meals here) because I had a job. No matter how many times I said that my money pays for college they still kept thinking I could go out more. While I appreciated the invites to them I did not appreciate the pressuring to go with the rational that I have a job so I must have the money. It is just not how it works.

While talking about money let’s talk about the conversations you will overhear about other people’s financial aid packages raising tuition for others and they do not belong on the campus, because you will hear it. Nothing else is worse than hearing that. While asking how you got into the school or saying you do not seem like a first gen student is ignorant this is just hateful. That is the moment I realized there are people on my campus who do not want me there just because I am not as well off as them. It confirmed my suspicions that some of the rude comments came from prejudice against lower classes just as much as it did ignorance. It also added onto the feeling that I was an outsider on my own campus, something which all the other experiences had just added to.

That is not to say the entire campus is against you. Most people want to see you succeed. They want you to have a better life. A lot of students I meet could not care less where your background is. But many students still fail at understanding how your background is going to mean you live life differently from them. Fortunately the students who are willing to accept you are also willing to listen and to learn. Most importantly they are the kids who made me feel like I belonged on my campus. For a campus with a rather tense class ( and racial but cannot speak to that) divide I am grateful for this because the one thing I would want to tell whoever is coming into campus in my shoes is that you do belong.

Cover Image Credit: Loyola University Chicago

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Please, If You're Somehow Still Using The 'R Word'— Leave That Habit In 2018

Come on guys, its 2018. Google a new word.

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Maybe it was because I witnessed two boys get in trouble in elementary school for using this word as an insult.

Maybe it's because I fell in love with a thing called Camp Able. Maybe it's because one of my best friends is a special ed major. Or maybe it's because I try to be a decent human being. I do not use the R word.

Until this past semester, I hadn't really heard anyone use it often despite one encounter in 6th grade. Most of my best friends I have met while serving at places like Camp Able or Camp Bratton Green where summers are dedicated to people with diverse-abilities. I think having been surrounded with like-minded people for so long made me forget that some people still use it as an expression.

Let me tell you, it's annoying.

The word itself has been brushed off even in a "scientific" sense. It means to be slowed down, but it has stretched far beyond that meaning and has turned into an insult.

It's an insult of comparison.

Like any word, the power behind it is given by the user and most times, the user uses it to demean another person. It's like when you hear someone say "that's gay."

Like, what? Why is that term being used in a derogatory sense?

Why is someone's sexuality an insult? Hearing someone use the R-word physically makes me cringe and tense up. It makes me wonder what truly goes on in someone's mind. People will argue back that it's "just a word" and to "chill out," but if it was just a word, why not use something else?

There is a whole world full of vocabulary waiting to be used and you're using something that offends a whole community. Just because you don't care, it does not mean it shouldn't matter. Just use a different word and avoid hurting a person's feeling, it really is just that simple.

There is not a good enough reason to use it.

I volunteer at two summer camps: Camp Bratton Green and Camp Able. If you know me, I talk nonstop about the two. More realistically, if you know me, it's probably because I met you through one of the two. Even before I was introduced to the love at Camp Able, I still knew that this was a word not to use and it never crossed my mind to think of it.

The history behind the R-word goes back to describe people with disabilities but because of the quick slang pick up it was sort of demoted from the psychology world. Comparing someone or something that is negative to a word that you could easily avoid speaks volumes about who you are as a person.

The word is a word, but it is subjective in its meaning and in its background.

Just stop using it.

A List of Objective Words/Phrases to Use:

Fool/Foolish

Blockhead

Nincompoop

Silly

Ludicrous

Dim-witted

Trivial

Naive

"A few beads short on the rosary"

"On crack or something"

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Stop Telling People That They Don't Act 'Autistic Enough' To Be On The Spectrum

It's time for the world to wake up. Seriously.

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(Note: This article was entirely inspired by this Twitter thread I saw and would highly recommend giving a read! The user touches upon a few points that I may miss, and I wouldn't want to just repeat everything they state. https://twitter.com/xasymptote/status/1075781558630518785)

No matter how many times it is stated, everyone seems to forget that autism lies on a spectrum. Therefore, the symptoms and signs demonstrated by one individual may not be shared by another. Sure, there may be similarities among two people on the spectrum, but these similarities should not be seen as defining factors of autism. Likewise, someone further along the spectrum may not compare at all to someone else.

Yet, television, films, and other forms of media don't do a great job showing this. There are very few cases of representation for autism on-screen, but when there is, it is often a very stereotypical, inaccurate case of it. Some traits that I've noticed most of these characters share are accelerated intelligence, lack of tact, honesty that borders on rudeness, and so on. And yes, some people with autism will have these characteristics. But a large percentage of them don't!

In all of my years working with those with special needs, I have never met someone who acts like what television considers the perfect picture of someone with autism. This is a big problem. Why?

Because the general public will start to believe that this is how everyone with autism acts. They'll start to think that these characters define what autism is like, and when they're confronted with the reality that this is not the truth, they won't know how to help.

This false idea of what autism is and means could lead to this concept on not "being or acting autistic enough." To an outsider, if you don't act like the main character from "The Good Doctor" or Sam from "Atypical", your identity is considered invalid. If you don't have the characteristics of having above average intelligence or complete honesty at all times, nothing matches in their head. See why this is a problem?

Autism is a spectrum in which no individual who has it is alike and will match all of the symptoms and signs. So it is foolish for television and film to describe autism through the same stereotypes when it is unlikely that the people you encounter will find truth in that representation. Even the best representation will not be accurate for everyone.

While telling someone that they don't act "autistic enough" is already an insult to their identity, that harshness buries itself deeper when you take into account that society already looks down on those with mental disabilities. They spend their entire lives trying to fit in with the crowd, lessening their ticks until it becomes easier for them to do the everyday activities that you take for granted—all for people to invalidate them by saying they don't look like they're on the spectrum.

Even today, society doesn't know how to explain autism, and admittedly, it isn't easy when it is so different for everyone. Even the people deep in that world don't understand everything about it, and that's okay. What is important is that we start considering everyone as individuals and not expect to fit them in a box of preconceptions. It is important that we try to erase the stereotypes and start explaining the truth: autism is complicated and tricky, but that doesn't mean we should ever stop trying to understand or make the world kinder for those on the spectrum.

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