First-Generation at UMass for Faculty and Staff
First-generation college students are among the first in their family to go to college. The most frequently used definition of a first-gen student is one whose parents have not graduated from a four-year college or university.
Here at UMass, we recognize that the definition of a first-generation student is fluid, encompassing complex family dynamics and embodying a diverse group of individuals who hold multiple identities. A significant portion of first-generation students hold other identities that, through intersectionality, impact their experiences in distinct ways. As reported by UMass University Analytics and Institutional Research:
47% of first-generation students at UMass Amherst are BIPOC
51% of first-generation students at UMass Amherst are Pell Grant-eligible
28% of first-generation students at UMass Amherst are transfer students
We share this as a reminder that first-generation is not a monolithic identity and that the experiences of first-generation students are complex and often determined by intersecting identities. At the same time, many first-gen students share similar experiences. Knowing first-gen students on campus as individuals and an awareness of best practices for first-gen support can increase their academic success.
Five Suggestions for Supporting First-Generation Students
Be Intentional About Relationship-Building: Building thoughtful and intentional personal relationships with first-generation students helps cultivate a network of support. If possible, offer guidance on the importance of mentorship – or offer to be a mentor yourself.
Facilitate Community Connections: In an environment as large as UMass Amherst, connection is essential. When possible, offer students direct connection to other people, resources, and groups to help make navigating our community feel less daunting.
Make First-Generation Identity Visible: Knowing we are not alone can make a challenging experience feel easier. If you identify as first-generation, consider sharing that identity with students and talking openly about first-generation experiences and resources on campus. Acknowledge this population in spaces when you can.
Share Financial Support Resources: For many first-generation students, college is the first time they are navigating finances independently. Connect them to resources that can help them better understand their immediate financial context and begin building financial literacy to meet long-term goals. An excellent resource to show them is Smart About Money.
Keep Information Clear: When speaking to, interacting with, and providing direction to first-generation students, keep your information clear. Avoid making assumptions about a student’s level of familiarity with higher education or the processes within. Avoid acronyms, offer to explain terminology, and create room for questions.
(Sources: “Supporting First-Generation Students” from https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2019/04/11/policies-and-practices-help-first-generation-college-students-succeed-opinion, “Report examines how to best support first-generation students” from https://record.umich.edu/articles/report-examines-how-to-best-support-first-generation-students-2/
Here are some resources that may help with navigating relationships with our first-generation student population here at UMass:
The Center for Student Success Research led a mixed methods study of first-gen students on campus during the 2018-2019 academic year to better understand experiences of students on campus. The results of that research can be found in the linked report.
This website is a resource for all first-gen students on campus and can serve as a starting point for students looking for information about first-gen identity and ways to connect to the campus community.
People’s names are an important part of their identity, and to foster and build community we can honor and respect that by trying our best to pronounce names correctly. This guide serves as a tool to help us pronounce the names of our diverse student population.
This group is a space for networking – a fun, safe, supportive, and resource-rich community where students can connect not only with each other but with UMass alumni who also identify as first-gen. Each alumnus in the group is committed to providing mentorship and support for the first-gen students who reach out to them. Not only is this an amazing opportunity to build networking skills – it’s also a networking platform with the capacity to yield real-world results for future first-gen graduates.
There are many terms and acronyms that are used in the college setting and here at UMass that may be new to those who have never had someone who attended college or are familiar to campus. This glossary helps student understand and learn those terms.
Know a first-gen student who you think would be interested in telling their story? Trajectory is a podcast focused on centering student narratives as they share their journeys defining and achieving success.
The National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) has created the Center for First Generation Student Success. This center is created in a partnership between NASPA and The Suder Foundation, and exists to transform higher education to drive first-generation student success effectively and equitably across education. Check out their page for more information and resources that are available to you!
Class Action is an organization that provides a dynamic framework and analysis for people of all backgrounds to identify and address issues of class and classism and its intersection with race and racism.
If you have or know of any resources that you believe would be helpful as faculty and staff serve our first-generation population, please share them by emailing email@example.com.