Duke LIFE Advice to Faculty

How to be a better Ally to First Generation and/or Low-Income Students (1G/LI)    Duke LIFE Logo

by Sloan Talbot, Nowicki Fellow for Student Engagement, Duke Alumna T'19 and former 1GLI student

The Guide at a glance

  • The tools and ideas below are meant to be a jumping off point for resources that faculty and staff can employ to better serve 1G/LI students in the classroom and beyond.
  • It is by no means comprehensive of Duke’s resources or best practices but will hopefully give better understanding to some of the common problems first-generation/low-income students may face and how faculty may help to lessen these burdens.


  • The term first-generation/low-income (1G/LI) for this post follows Duke University’s framework which refers to students who identify as being the first person in their immediate family to attend a four-year college/university and/or identify as being low-income or of low socio-economic status at their institution (Duke University, 2019).
  • These terms are inherently vague and used in many different definitions and contexts.
    - For a starting point, see the U.S. Department of Education’s breakdown of “low-income” here  (Office of Post-Secondary Education, 2019).
    - For an overview of the term “first-generation” take a look at NASPA Center for First-Generation Student Success here (Center for First-Generation Student Success, 2017). 
  • While some students may be first-generation and low-income, it is important to not assume this is the norm for everyone. Students can and do identify as only 1G, as only LI, or as both 1GLI.
  • All identities should be used in an inclusive framework to best serve the diversity of our student body.

Main Takeaways

  1. “Students perceive a dearth of academic and social information capital." (Daly, Hartsell-Gundy, Chapman, and Yang, 2018)

1G and low-income (LI) students often come to campus feeling like they know less about how the academic system works and functions compared to their peers.

What to do about it? Explain everything. Even if you feel like you are overly explaining a topic, research opportunity, office hours- it is better to assume that some students don’t know what these are and you should talk about it in class or explain it in an email rather than assume the opposite.

  1. “Finances are stressful, and an early source of feeling unwelcome." (Daly et al, 2018)

1G/LI students bear a financial burden that cannot be overlooked in a classroom setting. While some may have merit or need based scholarships, it is important to not assume these cover all costs of attendance.

What to do about it?
Disclose all classroom costs. It is essential to write out all required textbooks, materials, items, and special equipment in the course description, as well as put it on your syllabus and on Duke HUB. While costs may not be known until closer to the actual first day of class, it is important to let students know as soon as possible so they can plan ahead.

If a student is worried about cost of books, materials, or equipment- advise them to speak to their financial counselor first about options. This lessens the burden on them to find funding and allows students to choose a course based on content and interest without worrying about financial burden as a factor.

For items that are consistently used year after year like a required text book or a clicker, offer a system where students can resell their used books or clickers to new students such as Duke List, or Facebook Marketplace.

 It can also be a great idea to have a few extra copies on hand for students to borrow. Putting all required books and texts on reserve at the library is extremely helpful. It ensures that students will be able to have access to the text to make copies or scan pages they need without restricting access to other students who may also need to use the library copy.

  1. “An ecosystem of supportive offices and people on campus is critical, but knowledge of and willingness to access resources takes time." (Daly et al, 2018)

Students can feel excluded from access to identity groups, resource centers, and programs on campus due to feeling like they don’t belong in those spaces, or should not need to use them.

What to do about it? Make individual appointments part of your class culture. Instead of generically referencing office hours or TA’s after class, be open in class discussion about how students can and should use you or your TA’s as resources. Pass along appointment signup sheets during class, or have a link to your online appointment scheduler at the bottom of your email.

 The more accessible and normalized your office hours or appointments are, the more likely students will take advantage. It is also highly important to talk about and put in your syllabus resources like the ARC, CAPS, Duke Reach, Testing, Academic Advising, tutoring or writing workshops, and financial aid, and to discuss this with students on how it pertains to your particular class. While students may be familiar with what these resources are, they will be more likely to use them if they see a direct correlation between what your class is and expects from them, and how those resources can help them navigate those expectations.

  1. “1G challenges are challenges common to many Duke students." (Daly et al, 2018)

One of the most important aspects to this guide is that all of these tools and tip are helpful for all students. It is especially important to normalize all of these behaviors and resources in your classroom as something that all can benefit from. This not only helps with de-stigmatization of asking for help, but also will benefit the entire class.

What to do? Normalize everything. It is important in adding these resources to your syllabus or having these class discussions that you do not single these out as resources specific to low-income and/or first-generation students alone. These added parameters and information are beneficial to everyone and should be discussed as such.

Corresponding Blog Post  https://blogs.library.duke.edu/bitstreams/2018/10/02/1g-students-at-duke/

  1. “Advisors must have a comprehensive knowledge of the campus resources that could help these students including programs geared for first-generation students." (NACADA and Sickles, 2012)

While professors and advisors are not expected to know everything, it can be extremely helpful to be aware of who to talk to or direct students to when it comes to first-generation and low-income resources.

“What to do?” Direct them to the Duke LIFE student group, or administrators within the Office of Undergraduate Education. Both resources can be found here. For most financial aid related questions, always advise them to speak to their financial aid counselor first. It is far better to direct them to other resources then potentially give them mis-information. It is helpful to guide them to also talk to peers or student leadership from similar backgrounds such as a club, or group for 1G/LI students like Duke LIFE.

Interesting Articles:

"Thinking of First Generation Students as Pioneers not Problemshttps://www.chronicle.com/article/Think-of-First-Generation/135710/?cid=at&goback=.gde_73549_member_186217662&utm_medium=en&utm_source=at
"Things Working Class 1G Students Want to Know During Collegehttps://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/abc.21093
"College is harder than the classes students take- especially if they are 1G/LIhttps://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/09/10/magazine/college-inequality.html

General Resources

NACADA general resources https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/First-Generation-Students-Resources.aspx
Center for First-Generation Student Success https://firstgen.naspa.org/

Conferences for Students:

1vyG https://www.edmobilizer.org/
AL1GN https://al1gnconference.com/


The Privileged Poor https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674976894
Educated https://tarawestover.com/book

Works Referenced

AL1GN Conference. (2017). Retrieved October 21, 2019.
Center for First Generation Success. (2017, November 20).
Defining First-Generation. Retrieved October 16, 2019.
Daly, E., Hartsell-Gundy, A., Chapman, J., & Yang, B. (2018). 
Understanding the experiences and needs of 1G students at Duke Understanding the experiences and needs of 1G students at Duke . Duke University Libraries.
Duke University . (2019).
Office of Undergraduate Education-Promoting Student Success. Retrieved October 16, 2019.
EdMobilizer. (2017). Retrieved October 18, 2019.
Greenwald, R. (2012, November 11).
Think of First Generation Students as Pioneers, not Problems . Retrieved October 10, 2019.
Jack, A. A. (2019, September 10).
I Was a Low-Income College Student. Classes Weren't the Hard Part. Retrieved October 10, 2019.
Jack, A. A. (2019). The privileged poor: How elite colleges are failing disadvantaged students. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
NACADA, & Renee Sickles, A. (2012, November 5).
First-generation students. Retrieved October 10, 2019.
NACADA. (2012, November 5).
First-Generation Students Resources. Retrieved October 10, 2019.
Office of Postsecondary Education. (2019, February 21).
Federal TRIO Programs Current-Year Low-Income Levels. Retrieved October 16, 2019.
Oldfield, K. (2012, December 3).
Still humble and hopeful: Two more recommendations on welcoming first‐generation poor and working‐class students to college. Retrieved October 10, 2019.