a student-run publication that seeks to provide space for voices that are not being heard on our campus. we are grounded by politics that are radical, anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-classist, anti-homophobic, anti-ableist, and anti-transphobic (against all forms of oppression) and that reject the structural neo-liberal paradigm that characterizes middlebury college and its official publications
By Rebecca Duras
My fellow first-generation college students,
At this point in the semester, even you bright-eyed, bushy-tailed freshmen have realized that college isn’t all beer pong and cute Instagram photos. The workload is intense, the people are annoying and the weather is, quite frankly, shitty. That feeling of elation and achievement you felt when you were accepted is gone, buried under the weight of the bags under your eyes. You mark the days until the next break on your calendar, waiting for some time away from academic stress and with people who understand you.
Right around this time of the semester you may start to develop First Generation Impostor Syndrome, or FGIS for short. It will strike in your French seminar, when you struggle with your public school French to keep up with classmates who got to spend years abroad in high school. It will strike when you have to admit defeat and drop a class because for the first time in your life you cannot handle the workload. It will strike when you hear your hallmates going out on yet another Thursday night while you desperately try to resuscitate your rapidly dying GPA. It will strike in your politics class when your classmates blithely debate whether or not immigrants truly are lazy, not realizing that those are your parents, relatives and friends they’re talking about.
You will begin to wonder who in the admissions office hit the wrong button and accepted you, since you clearly don’t deserve to be here. You will participate less and less, if you ever dared to speak in class, because you don’t think what you have to say is as valuable as the opinions formed in the hallowed halls of Choate and Exeter. You will try to fend off your parents’ anger as to why you don’t call more because they cannot comprehend that you have so much work when you’re only taking four classes. You will cringe when a well-meaning friend suggests you take your parents to the Ovid reading on campus during parents weekend. You will hate yourself for never being good enough, yet you struggle on pretending that you’re fine, because if you’re found out to be a failure then everyone will assume all first generation college students are inadequate. You will begin thinking you will never be successful and you’re just never going to be smart enough.
This is painful, but it is normal. All of us that are first generation college students have gone through this or are still going through this. Even after a year and a half at Middlebury, I can never quite shake the feeling that I’m simply a guest in somebody’s incredibly expensive academic playhouse. It helps to know that for all its flaws, Middlebury’s admissions system does not make such significant mistakes. You are just as smart and strong as somebody who grew up privileged – actually, you are smarter and stronger. They still call their parents for help with papers sometimes while your parents still call you for help explaining forms they have to fill out. They did not spend elementary school translating the notes teachers sent home. They did not have to juggle school, extracurriculars and an after-school job to afford application fees. They had help and support during the admissions process, while you struggled to figure out everything by yourself while trying to explain to your parents why you are so stressed. They can focus on their college experience and finding themselves while you manage your sibling’s academic future from a distance, explaining what PSATs are because your parents cannot comprehend the foreign letters. Their parents will never understand the struggle and shame your parents faced in a world that sees them as lazy, or their pride at offering their children a better life than they can hope for.
When you begin feeling like you do not deserve Middlebury, put away your books – a person can only study so much. Go for a walk on the TAM while it’s still warm. Go color some pages in the AFC. Go watch silly movies with some friends. Talk to older first generation students for advice. Go to counseling at Parton because there is no shame in getting the help you need. Above all, remember this: you are smart. You are strong. You are a valuable addition to the Middlebury community. You deserve to be here. Not only will you survive, but you will thrive.