Combating first-generation perfectionism starts by addressing it

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Photo Credit: Jacky Tovar | Daily Texan Staff

Many UT undergraduates know how to stay on top of everything — they probably credit their UT admission to it. This feeling can result in an all or nothing attitude better known as perfectionism. As perfect as it sounds, perfectionism can result in anxiety, fear of rejection and doubt. However, there are a group of students on campus who battle perfectionism on a higher level: first-generation college students. Being a college student comes with expectations and hopes, but being a first-generation college student escalates these expectations and hopes. 

According to UT News, first-generation students make up 20 percent of undergraduate enrollment — that’s more than 9,000 students. 

One of these 9,000 students is Aisleen Menezes-Gonsalves, a political communication senior. Menezes-Gonsalves said first-generation students feel a heightened pressure to be perfect as a result of their upbringing. 

“I feel like first-gen students have to work much harder than (students who are not) first-gen students, because we don’t come to college with the same social and cultural capital (students who are not) first-gen students do,” Menezes-Gonsalves said. 

The newly instated First-Generation Commitment Working Group has taken steps to make first-generation students feel more welcome on campus. Much of these efforts have manifested in the organization of a new segment of summer freshman orientation catered towards first-generation students. However, this working group must also focus on the mental effects that come with being the first in your family to go to college — primarily the issue of perfectionism. 

“(This new segment of freshman orientation will) create an opportunity for dialogue from currently enrolled first-generation college students who will be able to share tips and insight,” said Celena Mondie-Milner, director of New Student Services and co-chair of the First-Generation Commitment Working Group. “It’s also going to be a great way to hear from incoming and first-generation students in terms of what their needs are and answering their questions.”

The new section of freshman orientation is the right place to enforce the truth that no one expects first-generation students to be perfect.

“We want students to know that they are not alone in their journey,” Mondie-Milner said. “Help is available, and it’s very important to ask for help. Our goal is to be able to provide those platforms to be supportive to help all student success.”

Menezes-Gonsalves said she feels first-generation students battle with perfection on a higher level because they believe they have one shot to make the correct decisions and each choice they make has to be perfect because they aren’t aware they are allowed to make mistakes. 

Because of the experiences of students such as Menezes-Gonsalves, plans for the first-generation freshman orientation section are necessary, and the issue of perfectionism must be addressed and incorporated into this. This can be done by introducing and explicitly explaining the myriad of support that already exists on campus and incorporating a small lecture style on the dangers of giving
into perfectionism.

“I certainly believe University guidance, advice and support would have eased the pressures of perfectionism and the ‘all or nothing’ attitude,” said Menezes-Gonsalves. “I think it would have normalized my fear and enabled me to make safe mistakes, learning and growing along the way.”

The First-Generation Commitment Working Group should take Menezes-Gonsalves’ first-hand account to heart if they truly wish to change the landscape of the University. They must make sure incoming first-generation students know that perfection is not expected sooner rather than later in their college education.

Torres is a Plan II, English & creative writing
junior from San Antonio.