Cultural perspective suggests that many first generation students “stumble upon” challenges when they get to college that make it difficult for them to take advantage of their opportunity to adjust to the campus, to learn, or to develop personally (Fulwood, (2012). These student’s backgrounds, perceptions of the unfamiliar environment and their established norms and values often clash. Taken mutually, these conditions influence satisfaction and the extent to which students take part in purposeful activities (Kuh et al. 2006). In many cases, like Billy Evans, these students may simply be ignorant of what is necessary to survive and thrive on a college campus. However, more than likely there exists a cultural factor related to that ignorance.
With this in mind, then first generation students’ adjustment is framed by both culture and social class. Figure 3, adapted from a schema that Lui, et. al (2004) identifies as a framework that people use to make sense of their social class. Five domains are depicted. The domains represent an individual’s feelings, perceptions, judgments, values, etc. based on similar
Adapted from Adapted from Lui, et. al (2004).
socialization that is experienced by a group. The center domain represents a person’s awareness of social class and ownership of that class. Each of the other domains represents an individual’s past, present, and future relationship to the category represented by the domain. For example, the domain of origin consists of those elements that shaped one’s perspective about social class; whereas, the peer/cohort domain consists of those currently shared common elements of the social class. The property relationship domain refers to the perception of one’s material condition, and the ideas represented by the behavior and lifestyle domains are basically what one does based on the belief that this is appropriate according to present status.
Ironically, the concept of first generation college student is usually defined with a social class connotation, as a student whose parents have not attended college. According to Andersen and Collins (2010) “race, class and gender still matter!:
1. They continue to structure society’s privilege structure;
2. As such, they maintain the foundations of power and inequality; and
3. Society is stratified along these lines” (cited in Dozier-Henry, n.d.).
The argument then becomes whether first generation students need to or should be expected to conform to the existing institutional norms if they conflict with those of their personal perceptions what is right or their family values, mores and customs. This is especially true when these environmental values, conventions and traditions are perceived to be alien, opposing or hostile to their own (Kuh, Brideges, & Hayek, 2006). Class and classism related factors such as social isolation, lack of culturally accepted and academic skills, and lack of support often result in withdrawal from college. Kathleen...