Being a first generation college or graduate student is already a difficult identity to navigate at a university, but even more difficult is attempting to challenge the dominate narratives and curriculum which may lack multiple perspectives, culture awareness and/or critical analysis.
As I started to voice my opinions and question the curriculum, I saw that resistance to university programs that perpetuate classist and racist behavior could look like I was taking my great educational opportunity for granted. Resistance is an act of change, not aimless aggravation, when it comes to access and transformation in higher education for low-,income and first generation students. Yet as much as I have raised my voice, there are professors and instructors who only see me as an entitled charity case.
Concerned or Complaining?
I remember having some critiques about a program I was attending that pertained to reoccurring trends that left out perspectives of low-income and Title I schools. Continually I was affirmed alongside other students of color who were discussing similar thoughts of discrimination, and we had become confident in our ability to make our points. When I addressed a professor, it seemed that they were quite receptive of concerns, and the exchanges seemed quite healthy. However, over the course of our program, they felt that I was only challenging the content because of my prescribed role of being the “radical” student.
Eventually, they told me in private that I needed to try to accept the content and be appreciative of the opportunity I was given in the university without question. The professor put into confident words that I need to take into consideration how much I worked for and how far I have come, and questioned if “complaining” would be a smart move for me. I came upon a wall and was dismissed. I walked away feeling that maybe college is not a place for me.
[gdlr_quote align=”right” ]Resistance is an act of change, not aimless aggravation, when it comes to access and transformation in higher education for low-,income and first generation students.” [/gdlr_quote]
Soon after speaking out I had become silent and indeed moved forward as instructed. But as I reflected on my words, it only felt that I was concerned with those in my community and those who I know have no voice in academia. I kept on thinking about my family and friends who have their own biases on those residing in the ivory tower and understood even more their contempt for everyone who has held their intellectual power above them.
Speaking out started to feel like a responsibility on behalf of those I was thinking of. Yet, even as a figurative representative my voice was often disregarded. I kept silent after that encounter, but later I realized that we cannot be silent in our concerns if they are rooted in our belief that individuals, who are a part of marginalized populations, have little to no voice in the university community.
The white and male dominated intellectual realm is hard to challenge, but inclusion is necessary if we want education to evolve in a positive way for the community. First generation students are present in college. Yet our voices are ignored or lack the language which is required to speak. We are not invisible, and our voices are trying to recognize our will to make change in academia so our families and communities can obtain a place in higher education.
We come from poor backgrounds. We come from communities of color. And we come from environments that hold negative biases on the owning class. Therefore, as much as we don’t want to, we must address class and the oppressions that intersect with it when we discuss plans to transform the university away from a white washing institution.