What We’re Reading: Narratives of First-Generation College Students

illustration by Clare Reid

The 2015 novel Make Your Home Among Strangers (Macmillan), by Jennine Capó Crucet, follows the trajectory of Lizet, a first-generation college student who leaves her native Miami for an education at an elite New England liberal arts college where she has earned a scholarship. As Lizet struggles through her first semester’s lineup of courses and navigates the academic review board, the cultural disconnect between her life in Miami and her new identity as a student at an elite college leaves her feeling caught between two worlds.

When a biology class puts her in contact with a faculty mentor who offers Lizet a summer internship doing laboratory research, Lizet is faced with the difficult choice to either embark on a new chapter of her college career, or return to Miami for the summer as her family expects her to. The complexity of the choices that Lizet must contend with brings into focus the weight of the affective work that characterizes the first-generation college student experience. Crucially, our access to Lizet’s messy and tender interior life allows this often unrecognized emotional labor to become visible—a critical reminder to faculty and staff that the challenges faced by students are often not perceptible to us. Funny, heart-wrenching and current, Make Your Home Among Strangers offers important insight into the experiences of first-generation college students of color—and the differences between the narratives that are told about them and those that they author themselves.