Working through personal identities
Freshman year started out rocky for Danny Park, a 2015 U-M graduate in Biopsychology, Cognition and Neuroscience. Beginning in his first semester, he struggled to balance his social life, academics and discovery of his own social and cultural identities. It was then that he came out as gay, began to engage with his identities as a person of color, as a person coming from a working class family, and as a first-generation student.
“It seemed as if my hardships in other identities were amplified by my personal identity as a first gen,” he recalls. “All oppression is connected.”
Grappling with these identities and the challenges they presented, Danny struggled from the beginning. As a first-generation student, he had difficulty identifying available academic support resources and, even though U-M’s LGBT-welcoming reputation had attracted him to Michigan, he still struggled with the prospect of coming out.
Danny was overwhelmed by the process of adjusting to academics in addition to his emerging social identities and the diversity he found in the university community. Never having learned to balance course load with other activities, he remembers, “I would spend more time planning events and going to meetings than I would studying for exams.” Consequently, Danny earned lackluster grades his first semester.
He reached a turning point when he secured an excellent group of mentors and began to take control of things.
Among those mentors were Danny’s residence hall’s RAs (or Resident Advisors). They had a substantial influence on him, and ultimately inspired him to look at higher education and student affairs as a career in the future. They helped him find ways to connect with other people who share his identities, and taught him ways to manage his time and take a reasonable schedule of classes.
In his junior and senior years, Danny was on residential staff himself. He now looks forward to helping his younger siblings get into good schools and to easing their transition to college. Beyond immediate family, Danny is committed to helping other students like himself; specifically wholeheartedly supporting the idea of a new-student orientation developed for first-generation students.