Reflection as a First Generation Student

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Jovanna Hernandez, Swarthmore College, Class of 2013

My journey getting to college wasn’t easy, and the challenges didn’t stop once I arrived to Swarthmore College. Upon arriving to Swarthmore for freshmen orientation, I felt so out of place, everybody and everything looked so foreign. I was experiencing culture shock and feeling homesick at the same time.

At my first college party, my fellow hall mates where criticizing the diversity workshop that is meant to make students conscious of the many different backgrounds Swarthmore students are coming from, but clearly they didn’t get it when they are asking among themselves if that workshop was suppose to make them feel guilty for their privilege. Then there is the “privilege walk” where everyone starts at the same place, and as the facilitator states “take a step forward if you went to museums as a child, or grew up in a house with more than 50 books…” is meant for students to become aware of one’s own privilege. I really dislike this activity because it looks at advantages/disadvantages linearly. Sure, I didn’t grow up in a household with books or got to go to museums, my family struggles to get by, but my family and community are rich with cultura. From my experience, I feel the “elite” culture of Swarthmore only values a particular experience and knowledge, and those with this experience speak with so much authority in academia and class. You see, at Swarthmore, students will talk before even putting themselves in someone else’s shoes or owning their privilege.

It’s been four long years, and I am proud of myself for staying in college. I am grateful for having found my community at Swarthmore to be able to share insights and advice on how to navigate through Swarthmore.They helped me realize that staying up late pretending to study does not make me a better student. Sleeping and eating right keeps me happy and productive, stretching every morning, makes me aware of my body because so much theory can make me feel like I’m floating. I’ve learned that students will use their big fancy words, but that doesn’t mean that they are bringing sophisticated insights to the classroom discussion. Even though my vocabulary is not as big, I have so many experiences that can add a different perspective to discussions. Also, Professors actually love it when students go to talk to them about their papers (plus it makes it so much easier to write a paper after talking about the thesis and main ideas with someone!)

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