Celebrating Our First-Generation Students

Welcome to FSU’s FGen week, which celebrates first-generation college students across the university, including faculty and staff who were first-generation college students . Students who are the first in their family to attend college are pioneers, navigating new territory and making new discoveries. They’ve often overcome serious obstacles on their path to attending FSU and made it here through remarkable dedication, courage, and skill.

Many first-generation students arrive with incomplete roadmaps for negotiating the college experience: The application and financial aid processes may have been mysterious and stressful for them or their families. They may not know what they’re entitled to expect from the institution, what resources are available on campus, or what questions to ask of faculty and staff. They may not know what office hours are, or that they are welcome to make use of them; they might never have heard of a syllabus. Their peers whose family members went to college may have more access to advice about what to expect from college, and what professors expect from them. First-generation students may need to work more hours to support themselves (and others) than many of their peers do, making time management an extra challenge.

Knowing how many extra hurdles first-generation college students have had to leap over on their way to FSU, we must take care that we don’t unintentionally put additional obstacles on the path to their learning and success in our courses. We can create gateways (instead of gatekeeping), and provide more equitable learning experiences, by making our courses structured and interactive, by making our instructions and expectations transparent, and by attending to our communication and classroom climates.

Sometimes first-generation college students worry that they might not belong, so we need to be especially careful to avoid sending messages that can confirm that suspicion. We must learn about stereotype threat, so that we can avoid invoking it, and instead communicate high expectations for all students, coupled with confidence that they can succeed and support that makes success possible. We should normalize asking questions and learning from mistakes, and avoid making statements like “this should be easy” or “this should be clear,” because for many students, the coursework might not be easy or clear, and such comments can make them feel like they don’t belong or don’t measure up.

Instead, we can create opportunities for students to talk to each other and work together as often as possible, so that our first-generation students can see that everyone struggles, and they’re not alone in feeling confused or challenged sometimes. We can help them avoid ”over-efforting ” and studying only in solitude out of embarrassment. It also helps if we faculty can humazine ourselves and admit that we struggled with the material (or with college) at some points, too. First-generation faculty are especially great role models, and can support students by being open about the obstacles they faced, or if they felt like they didn’t belong sometimes, and the strategies they used to overcome the obstacles and find or build a supportive community. (If you’d like to learn more from your first-generation colleagues, please check out the faculty panel below.)

There’s often a lot of pressure on first-generation students to succeed and lift up their families and even their communities, and at the same time, they may feel like (or even be told that) they are abandoning those communities and their values. A college education can be a transformative experience, so we want to ensure that our first-generation students have equal access to learning, to success, and to graduation.

If you’d like to learn more about teaching first-generation students, we encourage you to read Kathleen Gabriel’s book, Creating the Path to Success in the Classroom: Teaching to close the graduation gap for minority, first-generation, and academically unprepared students, which is available as a free e-book through FSU’s libraries. We are also happy to support you in this important work! Please reach out at pro-teaching@fsu.edu, and please invite your first-generation students to attend the upcoming first-generation faculty panel.


FGEN Week at FSU: Nov. 5th – 13th

A national leader with a long history of institutional commitment to first-generation student success, FSU was recently designated as an FGEN Forward Institution by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. CARE provides institutional access and support services to first-generation college students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. CARE currently serves over 1600 students through a variety of programs.

Each year, campuses across the country celebrate National FGEN Day. This year, FGEN Day is on Sunday, November 8th. At FSU, we have decided to celebrate FGEN Day an entire week between November 5th – 13th. Below are opportunities for FSU faculty to join in the celebration and support FGEN students.

FGEN FSU Faculty Panel

Thursday, Nov. 12th, 4:00 – 6:00 p.m.

CARE and the Center for the Advancement of Teaching are hosting a virtual FGEN FSU Faculty Panel. Several FSU faculty will share their stories about being the first in their family to complete a college education as well as a bit about their journey to becoming a FGEN faculty member. All are welcome, and please encourage your first-generation students to attend.  Zoom link: https://fsu.zoom.us/j/93747591418 Meeting ID: 937 4759 1418