Beyond mere talk: how to really help first-generation college students

I am the first in my family to graduate college and earn a doctorate. Getting to this point took guts, luck and some extra aid.
Julia James
The Guardian
Oxford, UK

Full disclosure: I'm often plagued by a fear that people will discover that I am an imposter. Objectively, this fear seems unfounded. I am currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). I earned a doctorate from the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar in 2011. I recently completed a masters in global health sciences at UCSF. Nonetheless, I still find myself anxiously looking for signs that the "gig is up" because I am the first in my family to have these kinds of experiences – or anything close.

I was born to new American immigrants from Guyana, South America. Neither of my parents graduated from college. My mother never even graduated from high school. My father was a high school graduate and worked as an exterminator. My parents had an acrimonious divorce and custody battle when I was a toddler. In the aftermath, my two older siblings and I were sent to live with our paternal grandmother, Mum Pearl, until shortly before her death in 1991. Then we lived with our father until his death in a robbery in 1993. Finally, we moved in with our paternal aunt in Brooklyn.

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