Senior talks about the struggles and triumphs of being a first-generation student

New beginnings are usually an adjustment, and it can be a leap of faith if you are the first to go to college in your family.

As a first-generation college student, Wichita State psychology senior Aunjnae White – a Missouri native – has had her share of challenges. It’s because of that struggle that she wants to give back to others.

“Where I come from, few are even able to make it out of our neighborhood and do remarkable things with their life. I get reminded everyday about how proud people are because I have achieved a goal that many have not had the luxury to do,” she says.

White wants to let African American first-generation students know that they can do it.

Networking is key, she says, suggesting first-gen students make a point to get involved on campus and make connections.

“I have friends who were promised jobs once they left college because they were introduced to the right people,” she says.

That dedication ‑ along with courage ‑ are important.

White wants freshmen to know that Student Support Services is there for them. All you have to do is apply, and they provide books, tutoring and scholarships to low-income and first-generation students.

“I recommend all students who are eligible to apply and get into this organization because they will help you on your journey,” says White.

Despite the challenges first-generation students face, she says, it’s good to remember to “just keep faith and remember the light at the end of the tunnel will be what you always dreamed of.”

I come from a family who didn’t have the opportunity to even go off to college. I am finally doing something that they always dreamed of doing themselves.
Aunjnae White

During her first year, White wanted to go to school to become a cardiologist. But after taking a social work class, her passions changed. She now wants to help women who have experienced domestic violence, families with substance abuse issues, and children with a tough home life. After graduating this December, she hopes to work at a nonprofit shelter, women’s domestic violence shelter or home for child runaways.

From 2019 to fall 2021, White served as the First-Generation Student Organization vice president and treasurer.

“I loved how it was like another family for me especially because I didn’t have family here and there were people who are just like you.”

On her journey she also met with two advisors, Charity Lowe and Nancy Krehbiel, who made a profound difference in her future.

“I loved them for all the help and resources they had given me during this hard journey,” she says. “They will go above and beyond to search for resources to help it go a little bit easier.”

Still, adjusting to college life was a big learning process. White recalled how much of a balancing act it can become. She “had to maintain a social life, self-care time and trying to work and go to school.”

In fact, one of the biggest struggles for herself and other first-generation students is feeling homesick or feeling the need to be at home to support your family.

“I’m a big family person and it’s been hard being away from my family for five years,” says White.

But she learned that her family wants her to be educated and travel because it was something that they did not get to do.

“This is something that I had to remember because I’m truly making not only my family happy, but my ancestors, too,” she says.

“I come from a family who didn’t have the opportunity to even go off to college,” White says. “I am finally doing something that they always dreamed of doing themselves. People don’t understand how much of a torch you’re carrying around being the first to graduate with a degree. It’s hard when people are looking up to you and depending on you to be the star, but in the end it will all be worth it.”

White also pursued her degree with her grandparents’ struggle against racism in mind.

“My grandparents are my everything. I love them more than words or any material thing could explain. They are the reason I kept courage and kept thriving to achieve this goal.”

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