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.