First-generation students are those who are the first in their family to go to college, specifically those whose parents have not obtained a college degree in the United States. Identifying as a first-generation student becomes complicated as the discussion can broaden to include students whose parents have some college experience or a degree outside of the U.S., have siblings who attended college prior to their younger siblings or received help from college-educated family members outside of immediate family. However, regardless of the technicalities, the experiences of all first-generation students are valid.

First-generation students and their families typically struggle with navigating the application process, the financial aid process and the new cultural environment that higher education provides. According to the Center for First-Generation Student Success, “the term ‘first-generation’ implies the possibility that a student may lack the critical cultural capital necessary for college success because their parents did not attend college.”

In a 2012 study from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), it was found that it is more likely for a student of color to be a first-generation student than white students, as 42 percent of black students and 49 percent of Hispanic students were first-generation in comparison to 28 percent of white students. Additionally, a 2011 report from the Higher Education Research Institute found that 50 percent of first-generation students were less likely to earn their degree in six years compared to the 64 percent of non-first-generation students.

The First to Go program on campus works to combat the many difficulties first-generation students face when coming to LMU. First to Go creates a community of support for all who identify as first-generation students, assisting with the transition into higher education as students learn to navigate a new culture for their own success at LMU. This week, LMU’s First to Go program hosts its annual First Generation Awareness Week (FGAW) in which the planned events will highlight the community, provide conversation on life after college and offer tools for success. These are the stories of a few first-generation Lions.

Alezae Cary

Senior sociology major, film & television and African American studies double minor

Involvements: Belles Service Organization, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., Rains Hall resident advisor

What do your degree and education mean to you?

Going to LMU, my biggest thing was education. I wanted to learn things I hadn’t been able to learn before. So for me, my major means a connectedness to the world ... Due to sociology I see things through a whole new lens. It’s unfortunate sometimes cause I stay analyzing [things] … but it’s helped me connect with people, it’s helped me understand people. It’s helped me understand not what’s wrong with the world but why we are still in this loop—this historical loop—and why it seems like there are so many boundaries we can’t break through as a society, despite it being 2019.

So, my degree means that I am now capable of digesting material critically, in a way that will help me make better choices and better decisions in a way that will better not only my life, but my community and the people around me. Because if I am aware and I know what is happening around me, I can pass that on. So, for me it is less about the money I am going to get after, and more so about making sure that my community and the people around me don’t have to wait till college to find out about half the things I found out about. That baffles me. Me walking across that stage and taking that diploma is affirmation that I am a resource now ... I am a certified resource for my family, my community, for my ancestors. I am now a source of knowledge for people who may not have access to that, unfortunately.

Do you have any advice for first-generation students?

Trust your process.

Dion Dang

Junior marketing and accounting double major

Involvements: Admissions tour guide, Gryphon Circle, First to Go Scholars Program, Accounting department research assistant, Accounting Society, Beta Gamma Sigma, Alpha Sigma Nu

What has been one of your greatest challenges as a first-generation student?

I think a lot of it was self-doubt just because I thought I wasn’t good enough compared to other people. I feel like this comes a lot with a lot of first-gen students where it’s like you constantly compare [yourself to others]—and I feel like that is a normal human thing too—there’s just something about knowing that other people’s parents have gone to college that [makes them] a step ahead of you ... And then just being away from my family kind of made me feel guilty because I should have just stayed in the area since everyone else in my family stayed there and the majority of my family is in San Jose. So is it bad if I just leave? Also, I didn’t want to get the title in my family of being the person that leaves and never comes back because that is what happened to my cousin who went to NYU. So I don’t want that to happen—I still want a close relationship with my family—but I’m still out here and not with them, which is kind of hard. And then just the comparing myself, thinking sometimes I’m not worthy enough, but then realizing after, talking to different people about their experiences, [that] you are where you belong … It’s like you are meant to be here, in a way.

Do you have any advice for first-generation students?

It sounds so cliche, but I think to know that you are worth it and to remind yourself to focus on self-love ... I think it is important to take a step back and say no every once in a while just for your own mental health and sake ... It’s important to replenish yourself and take the time to be able to focus on self-care. Even though college gives so many different opportunities, you do have to say no because those could present even better ones in the future.

Judith Chavez

Freshman, undeclared

Involvements: First to Go Scholars Program, Grupo Folklórico de LMU, El Espejo, MEChA

What is your main motivation for earning your degree?

Definitely I want to say my family. I think of all that we have experienced in life, and all that they have done to help me get me to where I am today. So definitely my parents, my family and my little brother. I think also myself, you know, I’ve worked hard and I deserve it.

What do your degree and education mean to you?

It means a lot. It’s a part of your life where you get to experience a lot of things, you have good times and you have bad times, and I think it’s just a stage in your life where you are learning a lot. I think it shows a lot that you’re learning, you’re grow[ing] and [overcoming] everything. Being able to even use what you have learned to help others in your community [is helpful]. It’s not just one thing.

Do you have any advice for first-generation students?

Ask for help and use the resources available to [you], and to remember that [you] deserve to be where [you are] because [you] have worked hard to get there.

Jazmin Quezada

Junior environmental science major

Involvements: McNair Scholar, First to Go, Sigma Lambda Gamma Sorority, Inc., Alternative Breaks trip leader, Gates Millennium Scholar

What is one of your favorite moments, experiences or opportunities at LMU?

Definitely I give thanks to the First to Go program, mainly because they opened the doors to everything that came after. So First to Go was the program that I went into, talked about my passions and what I was looking for and they always reminded me of my worth, how important I am and how I work so hard for everything—everything is going to fall into its place eventually. But basically First to Go opened the doors for me to EIS [Ethnic Intercultural Services], Joel specifically, who has always been there to support me and guide me, [and] has opened the doors to Campus Ministry and Latino Retreat. They have also opened the doors for me to McNair ... One of my fears going into college was the idea of me being first-gen and that we come from all different backgrounds—I was afraid that I wouldn’t be good enough in science, I wouldn’t be someone who was worthy of being here, especially because of how hard it is to be in the sciences—and First to Go was that support system. My number one fear was changing my major. I didn’t want to change out of science. I was like "I came here, I have this passion for research, I want to continue regardless." First to Go—just basically having conversations with them, and them giving me an open space—I would say are [my] dearest memories ... They reinforced the love I have for my major and my passion and told me to stay with it. I give everything to First to Go.

Do you have any advice for first-generation students?

Take time to get to know yourself, reflect on your values, importance and what motivates you, trust in your abilities and that everything will fall in place eventually. Overall, be passionate and excited for every challenge that comes your way because being first generation is beautiful and where you are the start of a new chapter for all of your family, community and friends.

Giovanni Recinos

Freshman business management major

Involvements: Athletics, Open Mic Night, First to Go Scholars program

What is one of your favorite moments, experiences or opportunities at LMU?

I think one of the coolest things was [that] I dropped a music-related thing, like an album. And one of the coolest things was spreading that around the school. So like I put posters up and stuff and then it was really cool like having people know who I am and they would be like, “Oh you’re that guy on the posters. I like the music.” That was really cool.

What is your main motivation for earning your degree?

Definitely to accomplish my dream overall, which is like I just want to spread music and make it obvious to people that it’s not impossible to spread their ideas and spread their feelings. To think outside of the norm of how school makes you think you have to think to be in society. So that’s basically what I want to do. I think the smartest way to go about it is to start in school.

Do you have any advice for first-generation students?

Network through clubs and opportunities as quickly as possible.

This is the opinion of Xochitl Pasten, a senior English and Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies double major from Los Angeles, California. Tweet comments @LALoyolan, or email

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