Elon identifies first-generation students on campus

Kassondra Cloos
News Editor, The Pendulum

For the first time in its history, Elon University identified the number of first-generation college students in the incoming freshmen class. The Class of 2015 has about 89 first- generation students, defined as students whose parents did not attend college, regardless of grandparents’ educational experiences.

First-generation students are an incredibly diverse dynamic, according to Lauren Flinn, assistant director of the Multicultural Center. They come from wealthy households, as well as low-income families, may have attended public or private high school and may or may not be minority students, she said.

“A first-generation college student is diversity, because they are bringing a different perspective, a totally different voice to the classroom,” Flinn said. “They, more often than not, tend to challenge the status quo — what is status quo — and that’s really important for any institution, any democracy in general, to have those different kinds of voices because they tend to come from very different places.”

Becky Olive-Taylor, associate dean of Academic Support, was a first- generation college student when she was an undergraduate and has developed a discussion and support group for first-generation students at Elon. The group, called First in the Family, had its first meeting Thursday, Sept. 22 and two students attended.

“You might be first-generation or low income but that’s not what got you here. Those things didn’t get you here. Your own talent and strength and resilience and hard work, that’s what got you here.”

–Lauren Flinn, assistant director of the Multicultural Center

Olive-Taylor is working to increase awareness about the group so more students will get involved and a meeting time has not yet been finalized.

“I think this is going to evolve,” she said. “I don’t have an agenda, I really want it to come from the kids. So my role initially will be to try to get the word out, and if there’s a need, a real need, the students will come.”

Olive-Taylor and Flinn said there are many challenges for first-generation students aside from academics. In Flinn’s experience working with first- generation students at Elon, academics are hardly an issue. She said she has seen that their grades are often noticeably higher than those of their peers.

Where first-generation students tend to struggle is with social and cultural norms typical of a college campus they may have never experienced, she said.

“When they get to college, research shows it’s not so much that they struggle academically but more in the environment here because of the cultural norms of the unlearned expectations that are at a college,” Flinn said. “This weekend is a perfect example, parent’s weekend. When I was in college, I was like ‘what is this?’ Even our orientation program is very family- focused. Parents stay for a good day and a half.”

Although first-generation college students are only identified in the Class of 2015, there are many first- generation students in other classes as well. The Odyssey and Watson Scholars programs are need-based scholarship programs that were recently expanded and many of the students in the programs are also first-generation.

“You might be first-generation or low income but that’s not what got you here,” Flinn said. “Those things didn’t get you here. Your own talent and strength and resilience and hard work, that’s what got you here.”

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