Today IU is taking time to celebrate first-generation college students, making sure we recognize the important contributions first-gens make to our university and to make sure these important students feel welcome and supported by our IU community. Here are four ways you can support first-gen students in your courses:
- Let them know you support them. If you know some first-gen students in your course, let them know you are supportive of them, and let them know you can help if they ever need help navigating the college experience. I’ve done everything from walking someone to make a tutoring appointment, to giving them hints about how to talk to another (apparently scarier than me) professor, to being a sounding board as they talk about picking a major. Sometimes knowing someone else has your back can make a big difference, and these mini-mentoring opportunities can really help.
- Celebrate being first-gen. Make being a first-gen student a source of pride, providing shout outs to all the first-gen students in your class. Since not everyone may want to identify with being first-gen, consider a general shout out and let people self-acknowledge, if they want. And if you were a first-gen student yourself, shout it from the rooftops and let everyone see what first-gens can do!
- Work to clarify the “hidden curriculum.” The “hidden curriculum” is the unwritten social conventions, behavioral expectations, and insider knowledge in higher ed, our disciplines, and our classrooms. This can be anything from coaching students on how to use office hours, to structuring ways for students to ask questions in class, to providing clear guidelines for what to do if they miss a class. Since knowledge about “how to college” can be passed down through families, it can reinforce socioeconomic advantages. Work to clarify the ways to succeed in your course, structuring opportunities and removing the guesswork from your course.
- TILT your assignments. A simple model of structuring your assignments to make them more transparent and understandable, TILT (Transparency in Learning and Teaching) has a strong evidence base to show this way of structuring assignments can help all students, but is even more beneficial to first-gen students, as it removes guesswork and reduces reliance on prior educational privilege. Learn more about TILT on the CITL website.
If you cannot tell, I am a first-gen college student myself. My mom and dad always valued and promoted education, and they learned a bit about college from my brother who was a year ahead of me at Truman State University. But I still had to figure out “how to college” pretty much on my own… but I made it, with the help of some good mentors. So, now I am a huge advocate of first-gen students, and of doing everything we can to support them in their work at IU.
Extra shout-out to my wife, Dr. Carmen Siering, who is a proud first-gen student from IU Kokomo!