American RadioWorks |
Image: Harvard First Generation Student Union Facebook Page.

The First Gen Movement

Over the past decade many elite colleges have taken great strides to admit low-income students, but there are unanticipated financial and cultural barriers to fitting in on campus that can’t easily be solved by merely giving students a foot in the door. Questions of class differences have spurred a nationwide movement of “first generation” student clubs on college campuses.

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in collaboration with Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity

Encourage people to tell their own stories

File under: other

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From: Elaine B., Memphis, TN

I tell stories to children who are falling behind academically in the public school, and I tell stories to women in the county correctional system. I provide opportunities for the students and inmates to share their personal stories, and I promote listening as a valuable skill. When people, young or old, are given the opportunity to tell their stories to other people who really listen, transformation happens. Poverty erodes self image and makes us think we do not matter, that we are invisible. By listening, neighbors, family members, teachers, co-workers and church members can pull each other out of poverty's destructive forces.

Last year I gave each of the children a disposable camera when they went home for the holiday break, instructing them to take pictures of their family. I told them I would develop the pictures and make an album for each child. They would be expected to stand up and tell us the story of "My Family and the Holidays." One boy used all 24 exposures taking pictures of the television. He took 24 pictures of 24 programs on television. Each child took pictures that included images of the television set. In every case the television was the most photographed member of the family and a central character in the holiday story.

This project turned out to be very telling about the children and their struggles to succeed in school. No one at home has the time or capacity to listen to the children, look into their faces and attend to their narratives and needs. Poverty robs mothers and fathers of their time for parenting. Poverty robs parents of their self worth and their dreams. So they finally give up on even trying to pass along anything positive. Face to face sessions of storytelling and story listening can open new windows for change and hope. Sitting in a safe circle where all stories are heard and respected as sacred gifts, we can hear people's dreams coming back to life. Each human being is so much more than what they possess or how much money they keep in the bank account. Each story is a reflection of power and purpose. A story shared is a story made real.


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American RadioWorks |
Image: Harvard First Generation Student Union Facebook Page.

The First Gen Movement

Over the past decade many elite colleges have taken great strides to admit low-income students, but there are unanticipated financial and cultural barriers to fitting in on campus that can’t easily be solved by merely giving students a foot in the door. Questions of class differences have spurred a nationwide movement of “first generation” student clubs on college campuses.

Recent Posts

  • 04.15.15

    The Lost Children of Katrina

    In the year following Hurricane Katrina, 30 percent of displaced children were either not enrolled in school or not attending regularly. Today, Louisiana has the nation’s highest rate of young adults who are neither in school nor working. And researchers are starting to ask: could the widespread gaps in schooling after Katrina be the reason?
  • 04.08.15

    Saving a Women’s College from Closure

    Last month the board of Sweet Briar College announced that the school will shut its doors at the end of this term, due to financial difficulties. The announcement was made abruptly, sending the campus community into a state of shock... and then activism.
  • 04.01.15

    The Future of College

    Kevin Carey's book "The End of College" is stirring up debate in higher ed circles. This week, a response to the book by a critic.
  • 03.25.15

    The End of College or the University of Everywhere

    When education policy wonk Kevin Carey looks into the future, he sees the end of traditional colleges and universities and he says that's a good thing.