David Hernández is an assistant professor of Latino/a studies at Mount Holyoke College. But before joining academia, he was a first-generation university student.
Having experienced university life from two perspectives, Hernández recently reflected on what would have helped make college more accessible to him the first time around.
He wrote a personal essay featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education that shares his experience as an 18-year-old and asks, “What could today’s universities and colleges do differently for a student like me?”
Though he said that financial aid and scholarships would always be appreciated, it was knowledge and cultural gaps between him and his peers that stuck out the most.
“First-generation college students, students of color, foster kids, single parents, veterans, and other “others” shouldn’t be out of the loop of the opportunities and resources that are available. Institutions should do a better job of reaching out to them,” Hernández wrote.
“Bridge and transition programs make a difference at all stages of education. Especially in college, these programs can create early friendships, a sense of cohort, and answer the unaskable — What’s a syllabus? Can I say ‘I’ in my papers? What is a mentor?”
Hernández said that feeling welcome or “normal” is often an impossible goal for a first-generation student and advised that colleges do more to offer support.
“For so many young people, attending college is a rite of passage that places them on a similar plane with parents or other family members. It draws them closer,” he wrote. “When you are the first in your family to attend college, it’s the opposite. It tears you away from your family and community. You become permanently dissimilar — different at college, but also at home, simultaneously. Colleges should recognize that some students are making it in their own way, without a support system.”
Ashley Dobson is NACAC’s communications manager for content and social media. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.