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First Generation College Students: Some Special Concerns

Welcome to Benedictine University!   You have succeeded in completing your high school experience during a global pandemic.  Now as a college student, you may be facing challenges that, at the very least, complicate your attempts to become familiar with college life: the continued threat of COVID-19 to you and your loved ones, sudden homelessness or unemployment, hunger, family concerns, dealing with lack of access to the internet, technology, resources, and space. You are trying to learn while your sense of safety and wellness may be in shambles. You may also be grieving right now: for the loss of loved ones, a global loss of hundreds of thousands of people, loss of your daily life as you once knew it, loss of the “normal” student life you once knew. Against the backdrop of issues related to the pandemic, racism, war, school shootings, you may feel vulnerable, afraid, angry, or helpless. 

We created this guide with the understanding that, above all else, students need compassion, support, and patience right now. These suggestions, techniques, and resources can’t provide solutions for the collective or individual trauma and pain that you may be experiencing, but we hope that this can be a starter kit if you need help navigating being in school during a challenging time.

Self Care

  • You are under constant stress. Be kind to yourself and find ways to recenter, have fun, and find rest
  • Take care of your body. Drink water, eat three meals, get enough sleep, try to maintain regular routines, find ways to engage creatively or express how you are feeling with writing, drawing, gardening, DIY-ing, exercising, cooking, etc.
  • Find ways to connect. Isolating can feel lonely and draining. Find ways to connect with friends, family, other students and coworkers.
  • Consider ergonomics. Notice what your body is telling you about your work setup. If you feel back, eye, wrist strain, adjust your workstation.
  • Step away from news and social media. It’s important to be informed but constant negative information can greatly affect your wellbeing. Find ways to stay informed and be engaged, while allowing yourself space to nourish yourself.
  • Center self-care in your protest work. If you are involved with Black Lives Matter or other protest work, particularly work that focuses on fighting identity-based oppression, it can be helpful to learn from other activists about how they recharge and find community in the midst of the hard work of making social change.

Be kind to yourself. Things are hard. Forgive yourself for emotional responses you might be experiencing or difficulties you might be having with academics.

Communicating with Professors & Self-Advocating

As much as you are comfortable, keep your professors and advisors informed of the challenges you might be facing. Having this knowledge can help the instructor shape the delivery of their content or adjust things to better suit their students’ individual situations.  

Inform your professor of your needs. Your instructor will be able to plan their instruction accordingly if they know about your situation. Think about things like:

  • Technology or connectivity you are working with. Are you only able to access the internet with your smartphone data? Are you on a limited data plan? Do you use your smartphone to do work? With this information, professors can make better decisions about how they deliver information.
  • Availability and ability for synchronous work. Do you have work full or part time? Did you have to move back home where there is a time zone difference? Do you have relatives or children you need to take care of? These factors will affect your ability to attend a scheduled Zoom class or be on Zoom at all.
  • Necessary accommodations for technology. Do you use a screen reader? Do you need video transcripts or captions in order to engage in your classwork? It is your right to have equal access to instruction and your professor will work with you to ensure your experience in the class is the same as everyone else’s. Contact ACE for additional information and support. (see link below)
  • Involve your advisor. Your advisor is there to help advocate for you. You can “cc” them on emails or set up an appointment to get advice and support.

Strategies for Online Success

For many students, online learning is completely new territory. With any new experience comes difficulties and frustration. Rework the strategies that work for your face-to-face classes; there’s no need to reinvent the wheel!

  • Find a way to stay organized that works for you. When the majority of your work is online and different professors use different tools to do work and communicate with you, it’s easy to get lost. Find a way to organize assignments and due dates that works for you. Here are some places to start:
  •  If possible, set up a study environment for you to do work. A quiet, organized space dedicated to getting work done can help you establish routines and get into the headspace for working. With relatives home working right alongside you, this can be difficult. At the very least, find a comfortable spot and limit your distractions.
  • Give yourself a break. We don’t just mean find breaks in between working (although it’s not good for anyone to spend hours at a time on their computers; so, yes, find time for stretch breaks and to rest your eyes), but also give yourself a break for producing work that might not be reflective of your usual ability. Prolonged trauma impacts executive functioning; there’s a scientific reason why you might be having problems with memory, motivation, and focusing.


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5700 College Rd.
Lisle, IL 60532
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225 E. Main St.
Mesa, AZ 85201
(480) 878-7514