Amber Garcia ‘17
My experience as a first-generation college student at Denison is complex because it is dependent on many variables. I cannot assume the label “first-generation college student” without highlighting that I am also a first-generation American, a Latin-American woman of Dominican descent, from a low-income household and a product of Boston Public Schools. All of these variables create unique layers to my identity and have impacted my experience at Denison as a first-gen student. In fact, my experience as a first-gen college student began before my arrival to Denison. I distinctly remember feeling anxious about how I was going to get to college and how I would manage once I was there. Questions such as: “Who will move me in?” and “Where will I buy my textbooks?” were consistently running through my mind.
Once I moved onto campus however, my anxieties grew deeper. I wasn’t just worried about navigating Denison; I was worried about “fitting in” with the majority, making and maintaining a diverse group of friends and excelling in all of my classes. As a first-year student, I felt especially uncomfortable being the only woman of color in the majority of my classes. I did not want to speak up and sound uneducated or ask a question that may have seemed obvious. I quickly learned that our Denison community is socioeconomically divided; making the distinction between our socioeconomically-privileged and underprivileged students extremely apparent. Thus, I have experienced a lot of social pressure to represent my community and culture in such a way that would bridge social differences amongst my peers.
While I have encountered many challenges at Denison, I am also very fortunate and grateful to have received such a wonderful education from this college. Towards the beginning of my Denison career, I felt that I lacked the family support I needed in order to succeed at college. My parents couldn’t relate to many of the adversities that I faced and I had to learn to overcome them on my own. Simple things such as having Denison dollars, money for laundry, visiting Whisler, getting care packages, understanding my student payments/bills, balancing extracurricular activities and my academics or having my parents visit for Big Red Weekend were burdensome. As I learned about Denison and my college experience, so were my parents; this has been a journey for all of us.
Thanks to The Posse Foundation and my mentor Lisbeth Lipari, a Communications professor, I have been able to create a more positive Denison experience. Their support has encouraged me to rise above all odds and find my purpose at Denison. I have also been fortunate enough to take advantage of Denison’s amazing faculty and resources, which has made my transition to college smoother.
My advice for other first-gen students at Denison is to know that they are not alone. Our first-gen student body is diverse and I hope there is someone you can confide in. I want to encourage all first-gen students to first recognize what their personal, social, financial or academic challenges are in order to adequately address them. Once you are comfortable recognizing what they are: seek help. Find friends that might be experiencing the same situation as you, talk with your professors or someone on campus. Denison seriously wants its students to succeed, so please advocate for yourself. Also, don’t be afraid to bring your passion or anything that makes you comfortable onto our campus. I found my home away from home in many student groups such as La Fuerza Latina and DCA New Beginnings. Please build a personal community amongst your peers because one of the most valuable lessons that I have learned at Denison is that it takes a village to make anything possible.