Labels like “First Gen” and “Low Income” are part of a continuum, and depend where you are. Stanford Law professor Rick Banks has written that “low income” at Stanford technically means an annual household income of something in the neighborhood of $80–$90K. A student at Stanford may not necessarily consider himself or herself “low income,” but may feel a nagging sense of non-belonging.
Here are some things you can watch for and incorporate into your classroom culture that can help First Gen and Low Income students feel more welcome.
Methods for Inclusion
Build a relationship and identify yourself as an ally.
- Share your own experiences as a first gen/underrepresented person in higher ed (e.g., “Like some of you, I’m a first generation college student and the first semester was hard...”
- Beware of stereotype threat and consider following expressions of empathy with statements that affirm your belief in the students and perhaps provide resources (e.g., “ “Like some of you, I’m a first generation college student and the first semester was hard, but I was able to get the hang of it and I know that you will, too. You’re here because the college believes you are important here. So, let’s figure out what resources we can find to get you through this patch.”
Normalize difficulties and the use of campus resources.
- Ask, “What questions do you have?” (which assumes that people have questions), as opposed to, “Does anyone have any questions?”
- Say things like, “This concept is not necessarily intuitive. If it seems hard to you, it’s because it IS hard.”
- Make sure to note support options like like tutoring, office hours, academic skill coaching, and the writing and speaking center on the syllabus.
Respect and acknowledge intersectionalities and multiple dimensions of similarity and difference.
Avoid assumptions like:
- All students can afford optional or supplemental activities and resources (e.g., field trips; latest editions of textbooks when an earlier version will do, etc.) Stanford opportunity fund for things like engineering kits (https://diversityandfirstgen.stanford.edu/resources)
- Material should be clear to students “by now," suggesting that material is simple or straightforward, as this may disadvantage first gen students and make them less likely to ask for additional help.
- Students’ parents have gone to college.
Try not to use phrases starting with “we.” E.g. “When we entered the war in Iraq in 2003….” Students may not belong to/identify with nationality/social class/race denoted by “we.”
If a well-resourced student is “showing off” or demonstrating knowledge that not all students will have (“This discussion of The Great Gatsby reminds me of Aristotle in the way that self-knowledge is understood…”) validate the comment, but bring the class back to the text, which is the equalizing resource that everyone has in front of him or her. (“That’s an interesting point, and if you’d like, we can talk more about it after class. You bring up self-knowledge--what part of the text can we look to in order to understand how the protagonist is developing self-knowledge?”)
Diversity in Academe: First-Generation Students ( The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 18, 2015)
First-Generation College-Goers: Unprepared and Behind (The Atlantic, December 31, 2014)
First-Generation Students Unite (NYTimes, April 8 2015)
How to Help First-Generation Students Succeed (The Atlantic, March 13, 2016)