Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Some thoughts on my first generation experience.
I entered college in 1956, the first from both sides of the family to go to college. There was no concept “First Generation.” I imagine that many of my cohorts were also first generation, but it was not an experience that I recall discussing. Looking back from the perspective of being engaged in student affairs work for nearly fifty years, several thought come to mind. One, the experience of “not being in the know” was true for me as it is still true for students of today. I recall reading information from the college as my parents were driving me to campus. I looked over to my Dad who was driving and said: “It says here that the average course work per semester is about 15 hours – that is a very long day to be sitting in school!” My dad replied: “You have put up hay that many hours in a day – can’t see where sitting in a classroom would be any harder.” I replied: “Guess you are right” – and continued the trip thinking I would be in class for 15 hours a day. Today I would call the experience an “ecological transition” without the necessary information to reduce the stress of “not knowing.”
My second thought is that the “First Generation” experience is not a single ecological transition. I was the first to be a second year student, first to be a third year student, the first to graduate, the first to go to graduate school, etc. In each of this transitions, you enter with a bit more “not knowing” than counterparts who come from a sending environment where most of these transitions have been experienced.
My last thought is that I believe from my experience (not from my research) that the “First Generation” experience is also connected to the experience known as the “imposter phenomena” (Chance, 1985). The imposter phenomena - folks who have attained achievements, but not for sure they are deserving and perhaps even see themselves as frauds. Being “not in the know” at every step may cause one to doubt previous learning. To end on a positive note, I think that being in the “not in the know” group as a first generation traveler – helps to dampen the “I know it all” that is so prevalent in academia.
Professor, Colorado State University