First-generation USC students and staff are calling on the university to address the need for a centralized office to help students who are the first in their families to attend college.
At USC, nearly 20% of the total undergraduate population are first-generation students, according to the Student Development Programs. Despite USC’s large first-generation population, the university hasn’t planned any events for the National First-Generation Celebration on Friday. On that day, colleges and universities around the country are encouraged to celebrate the success of first-generation college students, faculty and staff.
More importantly, some say, although USC receives thousands of first-generation students each year, the university lacks a space specifically designed to help students navigate college and address their needs on campus.
Gina Ibrahim, an advisor at the Internship and Diversity Programs Career Center, said the university should open a centralized center to offer first-generation students help.
“My biggest critique to the university is that they show numbers and praise themselves on diversity. They say, ‘This class is the largest first-gen class that we have ever admitted,’ but what is USC doing to support them?” Ibrahim said.
Trista Beard is the associate director at the First-Generation College Student Union and was also a first-generation college student herself. She said a space is needed to provide students with more tools to navigate the university.
“There are individual programs creating events for first-generation students, but there isn’t a campus-wide initiative or space for first-gen. Many of the programs at the university are aware of this need, and we have unified to ask President Carol L. Folt to create the First-Gen center on campus.”
Edgar Bustos, a first-generation student who has been at USC for five years, agrees there is a “huge need for a first-gen office.”
“I came to USC from a really under-resourced public school, everything seemed new and bright and shiny to me,” he said. “I felt everything here was fine, but as I continued to college, I realized there is like a hidden curriculum, there are things that I was supposed to know just as a young professional, that I didn’t know.”
Bustos, a political science, business administration, and economics major, said USC needs to do more to serve first-generation students. “The university is not providing enough information about the resources for first-generation students,” he said.“It is disappointing that they don’t have an office.”
Bustos said that although he has been in the university for quite some time, he is still not fully aware of all the available resources for first-generation students.
“The process of figuring things out for myself has been difficult,” Bustos said. “I have to do a lot of independent research. It wasn’t until last year that I started learning about all the resources on campus, like first gen-mentorships.”
Sophomore psychology major Valeria Ceballos, who attended an event for first-generation students organized by the Academic Honors and Fellowships Department on Wednesday, agrees with Bustos.
“Having a center would be very nice. There are different offices and centers that provide support to first-generation students, but the resources that they offer are very different,” Ceballos said. “They are run by different organizations and different faculty members, having a specific center would facilitate their access.”
The biggest challenge in such a large university, said Ibrahim, is that USC is a decentralized university. There are different schools, and different offices between each school that are doing their own thing.
“Serving first-generation students is a part of my role as an advisor at the Internship and Diversity Programs Career Center, but it is also a part of the Academic Honors and Fellowships Department, a part of the Student Development Programs, and Student Equity and Inclusion Programs,” Ibrahim explained. “We try to communicate and create a network, but it is hard to make all of us aware of the services for our students so that when we do meet with them, we can inform them about all the tools and services USC offers.”
Aileen Kim, a business administration and global studies major, who is also a first-generation student, said she believes in the importance of family and academic support.
“Our family provides us with emotional support and all those other aspects that are important but talking about academics there are just a lot less opportunities for us to interact with people who have experienced this before,” Kim said.
The university was unable to provide a comment to Annenberg Media in time for deadline.