In business law, there is a concept called the principal-agent relationship. In this relationship, the principal authorizes the individual to be the agent, represents the agent and acts on behalf of the principal. As a first-generation, low-income (FGLI) undergraduate student, I believe that the above concept of business law clearly describes a salient aspect of the nature of relationships between FGLI students and their parents. For many FGLI students, we initially assume the proxy role of our parents, no matter how inexperienced, innocent, or highly class-conscious we may be.
The above observation is just one of many factors that have contributed to the drop in college enrollment since the start of the pandemic, which has led to a staggering 1 million student drop. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a major setback for many individuals, and FGLI students have been particularly hard hit. Given the wide range of challenges that FGLI students face – new and existing challenges that have been exacerbated by the pandemic – it is not surprising that they have put their higher education on hold in order to help their families.
There are many cascading consequences of low FGLI enrollment rates in the community, especially for egalitarian collegiate institutions. Having one less student on the FGLI means their odds of upward mobility are reduced. Having one less student at FGLI means missing out on new perspectives, beyond those neighboring Canada Goose. One less FGLI student means one family is on the steady path of accumulating generational wealth through college.
This low enrollment is a concern for many stakeholders – employers, high schools and municipalities with poor tax revenue – and society at large. Higher education experts position this as a “short-term gain, long-term loss” conundrum for affected students. Many working-class families have to live in the present, and teens on the brink of adulthood can alleviate some of the current challenges by forgoing school in exchange for immediate work.
No matter what time an FGLI student has had to take over, working as an ongoing agent for their parents is not an easy role to fill. The weight of the multiple worlds we traverse so often – working-class home, upper-class college – can be overwhelming in our minds. We are always aware of the absolute allure of our duty. These thoughts are constant, burrowing inside our heads in moments of doubt. Linked by blood, our role as agents acting on behalf of our parents creates a parent-father dynamic.
From parent-teacher meetings to trips to the bank, I often worked as a junior translator for my parents and often got confused as I struggled to bridge the dialogue mix between English and Spanish. Translating conversations and documents along with other tasks—babysitting for younger relatives, assigned grocery errands, arranging transportation—is difficult for working-class families to delegate to others besides their children. After exhausting periods of hard work, my parents were drained of energy and left with little mental bandwidth for outside matters, be it political activity or rhetoric on social media. Plus, since my parents aren’t tech-savvy, buying information outside of their organic reach falls on me.
Due to the additional responsibilities we get, FGLI students learn to be completely self-sufficient. Our self-sufficiency stems in part from performing the agent role over many years. But that scythe of self-sufficiency with which we can cut through the thick foliage of social class disasters can inflict self-inflicted wounds. There were times when I clung to my ruthless individuality and stifled my attempts to seek help from others. One of the reasons one’s struggles are not revealed is optics. Much like how a client might question a financial advisor’s competence in performing his fiduciary duties, parents of FGLI students may begin to rummage their filial agents. Given the limited knowledge and insight that parents of FGLI students have in college, their concerns and well-intentioned input may not be better designed to provide the necessary emotional support, care, and advice to their budding pioneers. Since it is uncharted territory for the family, some parents have deep skepticism about college, especially due to the huge financial costs and cultural differences between social class. These observations can be misinterpreted as a harsh rebuke of the precarious collective experience of the FGLI student and magnify feelings of doubt, frustration, and bewilderment. Conversely, parents can simply have higher expectations of their children from FGLI, and can be really harsh when expectations are not met, such as receiving lower than expected financial aid amounts. As a result, FGLI students may become conservative and avoid future situations to show weakness towards others.
FGLI students are at increased risk of burnout if they mobilize their collective personal and family responsibilities and interests. These burdens can negatively distort our outlook, thus distorting our decision-making process to hedge additional suffering. For example, my own ordeal made me feel separated from other students, particularly those who identify as Hispanic, even though a large portion of this group are also members of the first clan and working class. I’ve looked for places where Latin’s fame has diminished in order to avoid anything – Bachata songs and songs, Dia De Los Muertos activities and other festivities, talks about the Latin experience -Maybe they serve as motivators and reminders of the arduous dynamic of parents who forcibly left me during my upbringing. As a result, the opportunity to become involved in and become involved in the Latinx community on campus was lost.
The implications of an unchecked boot mentality are profound. It is harmful and, if left untreated for an extended period of time, can exacerbate feelings of depression and anxiety. Its corrosive properties can dissolve fastened straps, disintegrate battle-tested boots and render the self-sufficiency of machetes ineffective. Once the malicious boot mentality seeps into our pores and seeps into the deep crevices of our minds, it can lead to our vulnerable, resilient psyches being liquefied into darkness. However, being open to others can lessen our suffering, calm our fears and complement our steadfast fortitude.
FGLI Students: We are imperfect dissenters, general workers, workers of all trades, modern-day Renaissance folks who embody our courage and deception on a frequent basis. We are the latch kids, the kids who ate free and discounted school meals, the pioneering excursionists who roam our environments in search of opportunities. I will never accept or give up the role of agent because my family has given their unconditional love and support despite meager resources and unfavorable environments. I won’t give up because my parents and family depend on me, and I know many others won’t either.
The columnist for MiC Gustavo Sacramento can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org