The HWC Celebrates our First-Gen Students

November 8 is First-Gen Celebration Day. Events campus-wide are celebrating the more than 3,144 first-generation college students at Miami. A few of those first-gens work right here at the Howe Writing Center (HWC)—our Graduate Assistant Director Brenda, and Writing Consultants Frenci and Selena. We posed a few questions to them about their experiences as first-generation students. You can read the Q&A below!

What challenges and benefits have you faced as a First-Gen college student? 

Frenci: Not only am I the first one in my family to receive a bachelor's degree, but I'm also the only one in my family to pursue a graduate degree—and I'm a creative nonfiction essayist to top it all off. There's definitely a trend in my family of people seeking out more "practical" job options, so being confident in myself as a creative writer can be difficult at times, especially when I'm constantly faced with questions about money and my plans for the future.

While I do face these issues with confidence, I also feel proud of my work specifically because I'm the first one in my family to pursue creative nonfiction work.

Selena: One of the biggest challenges I have faced being a first generation college student is that I typically don’t have any family to ask for help. I have become the source for all things related to post-high school education, so it can be challenging maneuvering a new situation and not having any family that can offer advice or can help.

However, I have also benefited from this dynamic. I’ve learned that I can do anything I put my mind to despite any presumed disadvantages.

How do you think being a First-Gen college student has enhanced your work as a writing consultant at the HWC?

Selena: Being a first generation college student has made me a better problem solver, which has enabled me to better help writers. Once I reached the 6th grade, it was difficult for my parents to help me with my homework, so if I did not understand a concept in class, I had to search for a way to learn it. This has allowed me to help writers when I come across a type of writing that I am not familiar with.

Frenci: What’s carried over is my ability to empathize with writers who may feel insecure either about their writing skills or just with college in general. I've definitely had my fair share of imposter syndrome in the sense that though I know I've received a decent education throughout the years, there are still moments where I doubt if the knowledge I hold is relevant or on-par with everyone else around me.

Brenda: Though many of the writers (and consultants) who come into the HWC may not be ‘first-gens,’ I can appreciate how they may be first time somethings—i.e., first time away from family, first time living with a group, first time in a bigger city. I feel I can use my first-gen experience to set the tone for writers who are writing their first literary analysis, first business memo, first biology lab report, and so forth. That helps build an atmosphere of camaraderie.

What would you like other First-Gen college students to know, which perhaps you wish you had known when you were first starting out in college?

Frenci: When I first started college, I felt like my accomplishments were just due to luck and convenient timing. I wish I had known earlier to trust more in the knowledge I had obtained and the writing skills I had developed up to that point.

Brenda: We typically think of “writing” in academia as pen-to-paper—or fingers-to-keyboards, if you prefer—and the development of a very standard and traditional (most likely, English) assignment. However, “writing” is so much more than that! Writing can be music, theatre, biology notes, posters, graphics, speeches, letters to editors, journaling, and so forth—the sky’s the limit!

To me, writing is a tool I use to not only keep myself grounded, but also to put forward my own thoughts, ideas, and agenda in a world where it is sometimes hard to get people to listen. It’s freeing and productive at the same time.

Frenci is a first-year graduate student in the MFA program, where she concentrates in creative nonfiction. At the HWC, Frenci works with undergraduate and graduate students on writing from all different genres and disciplines.

Selena is a senior psychology and sociology double major who aspires to attend law school after graduation. At the HWC, Selena works with undergraduate and graduate students on writing from all different genres and disciplines.

Brenda is a Graduate Assistant Director at the HWC and third-year PhD student in literature. Her research involves disability and accessibility in literature (especially science fiction) and writing centers. She helps coordinate many events at the HWC, including our Social Action Workshops.