In 2014, 45 percent of TLU’s first-year students were first generation. That number jumped to 65 percent in 2018. With more than half of the overall student body identifying as first generation, the Office of Student Life and Learning (SL&L) is focused on serving the needs of this growing group, specifically when it comes to university holidays.
Many of these students often have to choose between going home for Thanksgiving or going home for Christmas. Since they almost always choose Christmas, the Office of First-Year and Campus Programs started hosting a special Thanksgiving dinner in 2014.
“We now call it Firstgiving,” Samira López, director of TLU’s First-Year and Campus Programs said. “When our office started really getting to know our growing first-gen population, we noticed that going home for the holiday was an added expense for some. Also, many of them who live here don’t have vehicles and know their family may not be in a financial place to provide transportation for both trips.”
They quickly realized how having a Thanksgiving event on campus would give them a place to celebrate with their TLU family, including many first-generation faculty and staff who also attend. Lopez even orders extra food and provides to-go containers for students to take back to their dorms.
Moving to Seguin from McAllen, Texas was a major change for recent graduate Leslie Flores ’19. As TLU’s Advocacy Coordinator in the Office of SL&L, she now wants to pay forward the compassion shown to her.
“Homesickness is real and I felt it,” Flores said. “At a time when I was missing home and feeling the academic pressures of the semester, this event meant a lot to me. You’re greeted with Samira’s big smile and a bunch of students happy to feel at home. There were moments in my undergraduate career when I wanted to give up and leave; but thankfully, I didn’t. I attribute part of that to certain SL&L staff. I know how special these moments are and how much they mean to students. You learn you’re not alone in this amazing, yet extremely challenging journey.”
According to the Lumina Foundation, 49 percent of current college students are financially independent from their parents and 37 percent are 25 or older.
“Some students arrive here with fewer resources and their family is not in a place to provide constant financial support,” López said. “Some even send money home from their TLU refund check or from money they make working an on-campus job. We’re also seeing a rise in food insecurity among students nationwide and for some of our students here. Our office has built a closer relationship with the New Braunfels Food Bank and have recently taken students to utilize their services.”
Creating a sense of community and understanding these challenges is key for overall student success, López says. This can be done by listening to their concerns and taking the time to know them on a personal level.
“We need to continue our work in making the necessary connections for them to persist at our institution,” she said. “They earned their acceptance to TLU and now we need to serve them.”