Poetry for First Generation Students at Cal

Poetry for First Generation Students at Cal

As incoming freshmen in college, we feel like we need to make friends. In order to survive an often turbulent freshman year, we need to find people we can connect with. For most of us, it’s not a problem and we find a crowd to hang out with right away but for others, it’s a longer process. For someone who comes into an institution like Cal as the first person in their family to attend college, with a billion expectations and burdens on their back, it’s not as easy. Finding someone to relate to on a personal level and open to is a lot more difficult than it should be. 

As an incoming freshman at Cal, this was something I struggled with. My first semester was difficult because  I couldn’t find people I could connect with, maybe part of the fault was mine because I wasn’t too involved on campus since I was in Fall Program for Freshman. Apart from that, getting accustomed to life on campus took longer than I expected.  

By second semester, however, I decided to start looking for friends by enrolling in classes in which the majority of the student population would be people of color. I figured that because I come from a predominantly Black and Brown community, that I would have more in common with students of color than with the white students on campus. I hopped onto the Berkeley classes website and looked for Chicano studies classes and African American studies classes, but due to some mix ups with my financial aid, I enrolled in classes late, so most of the classes that I wanted to take were already full or had a waitlist.

Luckily enough, I scrolled down and found Aya De Leon’s class, Poetry for the People. I read the class information, looked at Rate My Professor and concluded that this class was dope and so was Aya, so I enrolled. I knew I was going to get a lot out of the class, but I hadn’t actually realized at the time how much knowledge, healing and personal empowerment was in store for me.

On the first day of class, I walked into Aya De Leon’s Poetry for the People and saw only  familiar Black and Brown faces, and I instantly felt relieved. I sat down and in that moment I realized I was comfortable. I was looking around, hoping to make friends with someone instead of keeping my head buried in my phone, hiding the nerves like I did in other classes. Poetry for the People was the first class I had taken at Cal where the majority of the students were people of color, and I had forgotten how much it meant to have a slice of my original life here.

In my Poetry for the People discussion group, the student demographic included many first generation students with immigrant parents, students who were immigrants themselves as well as a large amount of low-income students. Our discussions consisted of us sharing our poems and elaborating on the experiences that we touched on in our poem. As the semester went on, we began to open up to one another and got pretty close, which was bound to happen after we spent weeks talking about the adversities that we’ve faced and sharing our past traumas. We had a community within our discussion group as well as in lecture. We were able to be vulnerable with one another because the room just felt safe enough to. It was the perfect place to heal and help others heal but like all healing processes, it was hard and super emotional. 

Writing poetry, sharing it with people and listening to other people’s poems helped me get through culture shock and imposter syndrome. I was empowered by the support from Aya and other students because as human beings we find comfort in the familiar. We need people that we can relate to on a personal level, to share our experiences, feelings and to feel understood by someone else

I’ve come to realize that classes like Poetry for the People and Spoken Word are in my humble opinion, an essential tool to the next step to emotional and mental growth as a first generation student of color at Cal. Not only was I able to safely address my traumas and adversities, but I had the opportunity to work with other great poets and create a community with them. I have come to learn that a community of students supporting each other is invaluable and necessary for every student to have and though our generation has this “I don’t need anyone’s help, I can do this on my own” mentality that keeps us from asking for help we need to realize that we can’t to do this life thing all alone and we’re not meant to. As a stubborn person, I learned this the hard way but I thank Poetry for the People for handing me the tools to get the help that I needed from others.

Genesis Alejo writes the Friday column on being a first-generation student. Contact her at opinion@dailycal.org.

The Daily Californian

Read more here: https://www.dailycal.org/2020/03/20/poetry-for-first-generation-students-at-cal/
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