Notes from the ARC: To Dream or not to Dream...Is that even a question?

Across the nation, colleges and universities are welcoming more students of color than ever before. From the inspiring accessibility of community colleges to the sacred halls of four-year universities, institutions are not only welcoming students of color but a growing intersection of first-generation students. With this rising trend, how do we as institutions of higher education evaluate our current advising practices to best engage and empower these students towards academic and personal success? 

Imagine being the first torchbearer in your family with the opportunity to pursue a college education. What weight of expectation does that bring? For many of these students, they not only envision this endeavor individually but communally, as they represent the embodiment of their families’ educational and socio-economic dreams. This sometimes leads to a crossroad where one decides between pursuing their personal aspirations or choosing to act pragmatically for the communities they represent. 

Our response as trusted advisors, at times, may be to foresee the potential threats or challenges that first-generation students of color may face, due to this crossroads. However, for many institutions, this could potentially lead us down a harmful path towards an advising approach in which we prioritize their challenges versus maximizing their potential.  In contrast, our desire is to leverage the strengths and abilities each student will bring to the institution and the communities for which we are equipping them.

What would it look like to reframe our response to these students by leveraging an appreciative advising approach that focuses on maximizing student’s potential? Advisors would be able to:

  • Help disarm the perceptions of who we are to first-generation students of color. 
  • Create spaces where they feel safe enough to discover their student success and graduation outcomes. 
  • Highlight for these students that to dream is not an unattainable luxury, but an opportunity to maximize their unique gifts and abilities in their vocational and educational pursuits. 
  • Help students design achievable goals that create a step-by-step path for students to deliver on the plans that they might not have thought possible. 
  • Encourage students not to settle for the choices they perceive to have but to strive for the opportunities they really want for the betterment of themselves and the communities they wish to serve. 

The above elements embody the appreciative advising model that in practice creates an environment where first-generation students of color can thrive and be empowered to make the greatest impact in their institutions, as well as society as a whole. The role of higher education is to maximize the potential of each individual. We do so with this model in mind, creating a space that is welcoming, celebratory, and directional.

Lester Larios is Assistant Director of Student Enrichment & Intercultural Development at Biola University. Daniel Parham is Assistant Director of Undergraduate Retention & Success at Biola University. They will present at the #2019ARC on Wednesday, April 10 in a session entitled, “Appreciative Advising Models for First-Generation Students of Color.” 

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