Growing up within the five-mile radius of Inglewood, CA, a city southwest of Los Angeles, I had never traveled outside of the west coast. When the time came to make a decision on which college to attend, I decided to attend Wellesley College, a small, historically all-women, liberal arts school near Boston, MA. With only two suitcases, a pillow and a backpack, I moved across the country, leaving behind my parents, my two sisters, my friends and Inglewood. This was mi comunidad, my community; the one that had raised me and the only one I had ever known. At the time, I was the only one amongst my friends to move to the northeast. I would be moving to Wellesley without my community.
When I arrived at Wellesley College, I felt lost and overwhelmed. When I heard the conversations of other students who seemed more prepared than I was, I felt out of place. While attending my classes that semester, I was shy to participate in class. While my peers were eager to raise their hands and contribute to the class discussion, I thought that my contributions were not good enough. After my first semester, I was almost certain that Wellesley College had made a mistake in my admittance. It seemed as if my peers were better equipped, better prepared, and overall more knowledgeable than I was. I thought to myself, how was I even considered for admission to this institution? I began to feel that one day my professors and peers would soon find out that I did not belong here. That my placement in this institution was a miscalculation by an admissions officer. I began to feel imposter’s syndrome.
During those trying times, I had to remind myself of all the hard work I had already done to be here and who I was doing this for. I began to surround myself with people who strengthened me. That year, I was grateful to meet many other first-generation students like myself through Wellesley’s First-Generation Network. Through the network, I met not only first-generation students but also first-generation professors and faculty.
Slowly, I began to see myself reflected in this institution and began to find my own community at Wellesley College. The Network gave me a community of fellow first-generation peers and faculty that believed in my intellectual and personal capability to succeed at Wellesley. My peers and I frequently got together to support one another during difficult times, while my first-generation professors worked with me during office hours to ensure I felt confident to raise my hand in class. Most importantly, my dean, who is also a part of the Network, made sure that I was pointed to the right resources on my campus, such as the Stone Center for counseling, or the Pforzheimer Learning Teaching Center for writing tutoring.
Together, my first-generation community taught me that I must not let doubt and fear limit my courage to go after new opportunities, nor should I allow it to discourage me from putting myself out there in meaningful ways. Finding my first-generation community at Wellesley College empowered me to continue persevering and persisting for my education.
For students who are in my position, we must remember this: We are here for a reason. We are worthy and we belong. We are smarter and more knowledgeable than we think we are. We must remember to surround ourselves with people who will remind us of this and remind ourselves as often as we need to. We also need to remind ourselves that we are not alone and that there is a community ready to support.
Paola Gonzalez is a senior at Wellesley College and was summer 2019 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics