Throughout my first years of college, I couldn’t help but notice I was different than my peers. I couldn’t tell exactly what it was, but it was a constant feeling of separation.
As I tried to explain this sensation to my friends, it became obvious that nobody else could feel this difference but me. It was an invisible, omnipresent reminder that I didn’t belong. I walked around campus feeling inferior, doubting my own academic abilities, and contemplating whether college was the best option for me.
It wasn’t until I took my first sociology class that I obtained the tools necessary to express my feelings of isolation on campus, despite having a great group of friends.
Facing Obstacles with Resilience and Independence
I learned how being a first-generation, low-income and working-class student influenced the way I navigated campus, the relationships I formed, and the obstacles I faced.
I also discovered the numerous benefits of resilience and independence, and learned to embrace these social identities from a place of pride and empowerment. Despite coming from a disadvantaged background, I was able to excel academically and take on a leadership role in the greater college community.
Connecting with students who share these social identities made me realize that I was not alone, and the continuous feeling of discomfort was also an everyday reality for them. We found comfort in each other, yet the feeling of seclusion remained.
A Watershed Moment
Attending the 2016 First Gen College Student Summit motivated me to look at my surroundings from a more critical perspective. It became easier to identify institutional practices and policies that may become barriers to access and success for other first-generation, low-income and working-class students.
Due to the lack of dialogue surrounding social class, everyday incidents of classism among students, in and outside the classroom, went unnoticed. With the help of Director of First-Year Experience, Kate Child, and sociology professor Deborah M. Warnock, FLoW (or first-generation, low-income, working-class) was created.
[gdlr_quote align=”right” ]FLoW students to take pride in their identity and reclaim spaces within higher education that have been previously denied to them.”[/gdlr_quote]
The FLoW initiative was crafted with the intention of acknowledging and supporting FLoW students on campus. Through community-building activities and informational events, we hope to help students through the creation of a support network that includes students, faculty and staff.
Our main goal is to provide the necessary resources and support structures to ensure that FLoW students reach their full social and academic potential.
Recently, the FLoW initiative has been separated into two main units: the FLoW Steering Committee and the FLoW Student Union. The FLoW Steering Committee is formed by faculty, staff and students whose work influences the retention, persistence and matriculation of FLoW students.
The goal of the Steering Committee is to construct and promote the institutional initiatives necessary to improve the FLoW student experience on campus. By advocating for the interests of first-generation, low-income and working-class students at the institutional level, the group seeks to create a campus climate where all socioeconomic backgrounds are acknowledged and valued.
Similarly, the FLoW Student Union takes an inclusive approach to community-building. Through the celebration of the FLoW identity, the Student Union seeks to foster a community of support for the first-generation, low-income, and working-class students, as well as build a bridge between the FLoW community and the greater student body.
FLoW Students Reclaim Higher Education
We believe it is important for FLoW students to connect with peers who share a similar background and can understand their experiences on campus. By creating programs and events that stimulate self-awareness and empowerment, we encourage students to take pride in their identity and reclaim spaces within higher education that have been previously denied to them.
Bonnie Okoneski says
This is an excellent article and this article can apply to any situation in life where one feels isolated. I felt isolated in a different situation than this. Signed, Bonnie, Professor Warnock’s Aunt.