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This post is part of a series of blogs that explore experiences of underrepresented college students who attend predominantly white institutions (PWI) in Nebraska.

Mary is a Latina at a community college in Southeast Nebraska. Genesis is a Latina graduate student in Lincoln.

As a Latina, what has been great about your college experience?

Mary: So far, my college experience has been a good one. Although my college is a PWI, every instructor I’ve come across so far has been very welcoming to everyone no matter their background. Same goes for my classmates. Although I keep to myself for the most part, whenever we do group work in class, everyone is treated with the same respect. I’m really glad that I’m at a school where equality amongst all is promoted and respected.

Genesis: Perhaps the most significant experience I had as a student of color attending a PWI is that I was able to participate in advocacy through sharing my experiences. Universities nationwide are now advocating for diversity because it fosters better education. I got to share my perspectives in class with students who had no idea those experiences could even occur. In many ways, my sharing sparked debate and discussion on how we should address issues of diversity and inclusion, discussions that would not have happened if not for sharing my experiences.

Describe the support or challenges you’ve faced from your family as a college student.

Mary: My parents have been my biggest support system for school since day one, especially my mom. Ever since I was little my mom always made sure I knew that school was important. She always pushes me to keep going even when things get difficult, and for that I’m so thankful.

Genesis: I am a first-generation Latinx student whose hard-working parents only graduated from high school. My parents could not offer me any form of advice regarding my educational career because they had never experienced it for themselves. However, they always tried to be as supportive as possible. When I complained that law school was hard, my father gave me a piece of advice that has stuck with me over the years. He said, “If it were easy, anyone could do it.” I am forever grateful for their never-ending sacrifices and encouragement to ensure that I would complete my educational goals.

Tell us about a challenge that you encountered as a college student.

Mary: Even though my mom has helped a lot throughout my educational years, there are still some challenges that come from being a first-gen college student. Neither of my parents graduated high school, so I’m the first in the family who actually attends college. It was kind of difficult at first knowing I had no one to help me if I was lost, but there are so many people and resources that I’ve come across that made the process easier.

Genesis: Somehow, I always had issues with my financial aid throughout college. Every semester I had to contact the office of financial aid. It seemed to be a never-ending challenge. I am grateful, however, that this challenge instilled in me the need to constantly verify everything bureaucratic and financial in my educational career. As a first-generation student of color, I was not prepared for the bureaucracy of the higher education system. I stumbled and learned a lot during my undergraduate years. Now I am in a position where I can help other students of color and ensure they do not struggle as much as I did, especially with their financial aid questions.

Have you recognized any differences between your high school and college experience as it relates to diversity?

Mary: I went to a high school known for being diverse. Compared to my high school, my college is definitely not as diverse. Sure, you see people of color, but for the most part I believe the student population is mostly white. But so far, my college experience has not included any type of discrimination against my ethnicity or anyone else’s.

Genesis: Oddly enough, the key difference between my high school and college experiences was that I went to a predominately diverse high school growing up. My high school was roughly 85% first-generation students of color. Although I always knew I was a minority student, I never felt that way in high school. I was shocked when I went to college because, for the first time in my life, I felt like a minority student. I did not realize how diverse my background was until I went to college.

What on-campus support systems exist for underrepresented students or students that have diverse backgrounds? What has been helpful to you personally?

Mary: I’m not too familiar with all the on-campus support systems that are available to students with diverse backgrounds, but my advisor serves as my support system at school. I feel that I can go to her for any questions that I have about college, whether that’s academic or even personal. Advisors are there to help you with anything that you need, and mine has been very welcoming.

What advice do you have for younger students who do not identify with the majority population as they prepare to go to college?

Mary: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. College is full of people who are willing to help you succeed in any way that they can. As long as you speak up and make the effort to find help, there’s always someone there for you. Despite the differences in student population, we all want to be able to succeed and become the best version of ourselves. So, at the end of the day we’re not so different from each other.

Genesis: Stay true to yourself, your roots, and your values. Do not change who you are to conform with the majority population. Diversity is beautiful; work hard but be yourself.