Research Guide

Works on First-Generation College Experiences and Identities
Annotated Bibliography

Personal Narratives

Culver, S.J. (2012, November 11). Let’s help them speak up across the cultural divide. The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Culver expresses his personal concern for the students in his Composition class who are not participating in class discussion. Comparing his observations of these students to his own personal experiences with higher education, Culver examines the possibility that his students are negotiating cultural clashes in the classroom. 

Gutierrez, A. (2013, February 19). Easing the transition to Yale. Yale Daily News.
Drawing from his undergraduate experiences at Yale, Gutierrez reflects on the challenges facing first-gen students at elite universities. Financial aid opportunities drew Gutierrez to Yale, but he did not fully understand the academic and financial burdens that would lie ahead. Gutierrez describes his feelings of loneliness, and then of belonging and validation when he encounters students with similar concerns. He suggests establishing a “bridge” program at Yale similar to those currently in place at a handful of universities across the country in an effort to build community and belonging.

Porter, J. (2013, August 03). Reflections on the road to Harvard. The New York Times.
In this piece, Justin Porter reflects on his first year, first-generation experience at Harvard University, an experience that led him to “grow and take a candid look at the world, and at [himself].”

Varian, F. (2004).  Getting out. Without a net: the female experience of growing up working-class (Live Girls) 161-166.
What does it mean to “get out” out of the working class? Is it just about “working smart” instead of “hard,” or something more? In her personal narrative, Varian, the daughter of a janitor, explores the nature of working-class culture by reflecting on her first-generation journey at Vassar College.

Whitaker, M. (2017, June 12). The unseen labor of mentoring. Chronical Vitae.
In this article, Manya Whitaker describes her work as an Assistant Professor of Education at Colorado College, which includes intensive mentoring for underrepresented students. Drawing from these experiences, Whitaker offers two recommendations for faculty who work with diverse student populations, reaffirming that “people of color, queer people, disabled people, working class people—people like [her] students—can not only survive, but thrive at an institution that was not designed to meet their needs.”

Scholarly Texts

Brinkman, S., Gibson, K., & Presnell, J. (2013). When the helicopters are silent: The information seeking strategies of first-generation college students.” American Literary Association 643-650.
Many scholars argue that first-generation students are not prepared for college. This work asserts the opposite. The authors demonstrate the power behind first-gen social capital and students’ information-seeking abilities.

Housel, T.H. (2013, June 01). No one-size-fits-all approach with first-generation college students.
Housel begins with recollections of academic struggles among her first-generation experience at Oberlin College. She proceeds to address five challenges that first-gen students encounter. Within these five challenges, Housel directs attention to issues such as academic preparedness, professionalization, and extracurricular involvements. In order for first-gen students to be successful, the needs addressed in each the five challenges must be met.

Jehangir, R. R. (2008). Cultivating voice: First-generation students seek full academic citizenship in multicultural learning communities. Innovative Higher Education. doi:10.1007/s10755-008-9089-5
Jahangir uses the perception of seven students’ experiences to examine how multicultural learning communities can address some of the challenges facing first-generation college students.

Langford, J., & Clance, P. (1993). The impostor phenomenon: Recent research findings regarding dynamics, personality and family patterns and their implications for treatment. Psychotherapy, 30, 495-501.
Introversion, trait anxiety, and non-supportive family backgrounds can contribute to students’ lack of belief in their genuine abilities. Different psychotherapy techniques are suggested to lessen students’ dependence on external validation.

Oldfield, K. (2007). Humble and hopeful: Welcoming first-generation poor and working-class students to college.” About Campus: 2-3.
According to Oldfield, upon entering college first-gen students join a “rarified and often mystifying culture of rules, rites, and rituals.” Based on his own personal experiences, the author describes some of the social challenges facing first-gen students, arguing that mentorship can drastically aid transition by demystifying the cultures of higher education.

Oldfield, K. (2012). Still humble and hopeful: Two more recommendations on welcoming first-generation poor and working-class students to college. About Campus: 2-13.
A continuation of the author’s 2007 article, this piece describes several more lessons Oldfield wishes he would have understood as a first-generation, working-class student, including the importance of “shopping” for college and the value of leisurely vacations and travel.

Pickard, E., & Logan, F. (2013 July). The research process and the library: First-generation college seniors vs. freshmen. College and Research Libraries.
Pickard and Logan examine students’ varying approaches to research from their freshmen to senior years by comparing the expectations of librarians, timelines to project completion, and research resources and tactics.

Smith, B. (2009 June). Mentoring programs: The great hope or great hype?” Association for the Study of Higher Education.
Smith asserts that mentoring relationships are “critical to the academic success of underrepresented students defined as first-generation college students and/or students of color” and explains how new mentoring initiatives have increased “retention and graduation rates among underrepresented students.”

Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race, Ethnicity, and Education 8(1), 69-91.
Through the lens of critical race theory, author Tara J. Yosso examines social capital as a form of cultural wealth. In this work, she poses a question many scholars have considered: “whose knowledge counts and whose knowledge is discounted?”

News and Media

Flaherty, C. (2017, June 2). First-Gen Faculty. Inside Higher Education.
An Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, first-generation college graduate Rebecca Covarrubias is the faculty lead on the UC system-wide “First-Gen Faculty” campaign. The initiative encourages instructors on campus to identify themselves via t-shirts, buttons and other means as the first in their families to graduate from a four-year institution.

Harris, E. (2017, May 30). ‘I won’t give up’: How First-Generation Students See College. The New York Times.
The New York Times asked five first-generation journalism students to interview other first-generation students at their colleges about the challenges they have faced. Interviewees offer insight into a wide range of experiences: the application process, balancing work with school, adjusting as an immigrant, and managing family pressures, among others.

Jan, T. (2009, May 12). The Harvard disadvantage; Despite outreach, the needy face socioeconomic gulf. The Boston Globe (Boston, MA). Retrieved July 27, 2017.
Tracy Jan begins by discussing Harvard student Miguel Garcia’s experience on move-in day, emphasizing Garcia’s feelings of alienation and intimidation. Jan uses Garcia’s story to show how although Harvard assists with financial needs, many first-gen students are left to navigate difficult social spaces without guidance. Rather than assume first-gen students are socially equal to other Harvard students, students, faculty, and administrators should recognize the gap and work to create an inclusive environment.

Lederman, D. (2013, November 5). Building student’ ‘cultural capital’. Inside Higher Education.
Lederman identifies certain first-gen experiences that cannot be changed, and then shifts his focus to those that can, specifically cultural capital. By creating opportunities for students to get involved in extracurricular cultural events, higher education professionals can help build cultural capital within first-gen student populations.

Patton, S. (2012, December 7). Here’s smarty pants, home for the holidays. The Chronicle of Higher Education 59(15).
Patton follows the stories of three different first-gen students and documents their experiences as they return home for the holidays. Ms. Boone, a Ph.D. student, feels the divides her education has created between her and the members of her family. Mr. Lopez Oro reveals that his family has trouble understanding the difficulty of his intellectual labors in comparison with their own physical labors. Mr. Welge feels pressure when he realizes his father is living out his college dreams through his son.

Wang, M., Supiano, B., & Fuller, A. (2012, October 04). The Parent Loan Trap. The Chronicle of Higher Education.
With a focus on Parent PLUS Loans, author Marian Wang and contributors examine the culture of borrowing and the roles and responsibilities of students, parents, colleges, and universities. This article expresses how Parent PLUS Loans extends the burden of paying for college to families as a whole.

Film and TV

The Blind Side (2009)
The story of Michael Oher, a homeless and traumatized boy who became an All American football player and first round NFL draft pick with the help of a caring woman and her family.

Drumline (2002)
This movie stars Nick Cannon as Devon Miles, a talented but stubborn drummer who earns a scholarship to play in the band for a fictional Historical Black College in the South. At first, Devon struggles to meet the expectations of the university and the band but ultimately finds his place at the institution.

First-Generation (2011)
This documentary follows four students who are trying to be the first from their families to attend college.

Friday Night Lights (2006-2011)
Season three focuses on the choices of several graduating seniors, many of them the first in their families to apply for college. Many of the episodes explore the students’ conflicting feelings about leaving home and family members behind while they pursue their individual goals.

No Look Pass (2011)
This documentary focuses on Emily Tay, a first-generation Burmese immigrant and basketball superstar at Harvard University who strives to play professionally in Europe and who struggles to “come out” to her family about her sexuality. Tay also attended an elite private high school in Los Angeles.

The Skulls (2000)
Joshua Jackson stars as Luke McNamara, an overachieving working-class student at an Ivy League institution who decides to join a secret society in hope of gaining acceptance and financial support to attend Harvard University Law School. Luke struggles to maintain his relationships with his local townie friends, his “outsider” peers at college, and the brothers in his society.