First-Generation College Students @ Michigan, a student group that focuses on recognizing and resolving the needs of first-generation students, held a welcome dinner for about 100 first-generation University of Michigan students Monday evening.
First-generation students, defined by the University as students whose parents have never attended and/or graduated from college, make up 13 percent of the undergraduate and 18 percent of the graduate student population, which is almost 6,500 students combined.
Robert Sellers, vice provost for equity, inclusion and academic affairs, called first-generation students “trailblazers” who lead the way for future first-generation prospective students, during remarks at the event.
Sociology lecturer Dwight Lang has advised First-Generation College Students @ Michigan for the past eight years and was a first-generation student himself. During the dinner, he said first-generation students often face several unique challenges, such as feeling marginalized or invisible.
“(First-generation students) sometimes feel like they haven’t had the same set of experiences as privileged students had,” Lang said. “Maybe they haven’t had AP classes in high school, maybe they haven’t traveled to Europe or Asia before coming to college.”
LSA senior Logan Meyer, president of First-Generation College Students @ Michigan, echoed Lang and said his desire to find a community motivated him to join and be active in the organization.
“My first year was absolutely terrible — I hated every single second of it,” Meyer said. “I was not close to my roommate, I felt constantly intimidated by other students and I felt dumb. And here I stand four years later, as a president of the first group that I joined in college.”
LSA junior Camille Cu, who is an international first-generation student and a transfer student from Washtenaw Community College, said she was forced to be self-sufficient and independent because her parents could not help her prepare for college in the United States.
“I had to do all the research by myself about what college to go to and what major I should choose,” Cu said. “Also, I had to prepare coming to the U.S. by myself.”
Lang said first-generation students exhibit two main strengths that are not usually present in other students — risk-taking and crossing boundaries. He said these skills could help first-generation students succeed in spite of their backgrounds and previous experiences.
“(First-generation students) have taken significant risks coming here, coming to a new place that they are not familiar with — a middle-class, upper-middle-class college,” Lang said. “They feel comfortable crossing boundaries and getting to know people who grew up in very different circumstances.”
Cu said attending the dinner helped her realize other first-generation students also experienced the problems she has been experiencing, such as feeling like she had no one to talk to. She added that the first-generation students should believe in their strength.
“I just want to say ‘just be proud of yourself,’ ” Cu said. “I am the first one in my family to go to college and I’m so proud of myself for that. Everyone’s really strong, and it’s good to have a group of people to support you.”