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The Culture of College

By Julius Chatton

Another enjoyable summer vacation has come to an end, and college students nationwide are now beginning to settle into the new fall semester. Fresno and Central Valley students attending local universities and higher education systems can undoubtedly expect to face new and serious challenges this year in the world of academia.

With the California budget at record lows and omnipresent cutbacks affecting many government-funded education programs, new college students are in for quite a fight. Their toughest job may be securing their place in one of our state’s overcrowded and understaffed institutions.

Freshmen who were looking to avoid these daunting obstacles may have already chosen to leave the Central Valley to seek education in an area of the state or the country that hasn’t been so heavily affected by budget constraints. But any student who chooses to uproot or relocate him/herself should first ponder the possible effects of another undertaking that lies on the horizon of many youngsters who decide to study away from home—the impact of culture shock.

Jennifer Alicia Rodriguez, a 21-year-old medical student, a recent graduate of UC Irvine’s biological sciences program and a Los Angeles native, is someone who is all too familiar with the difficulties of assimilating into the “college culture.”

On a rainy Monday evening last semester, during the peak of finals, Rodriguez found herself lying in her dormitory, flipping through the signals of her Internet radio stream. Rodriguez was searching for her childhood friend, Julius Chatton, who was scheduled to make a guest appearance on Fresno’s free speech, talk radio program, Health Comes at a Premium, broadcast by KFCF.

When Rodriguez tuned in, the host of Health, Dr. Jean Kennedy, happened to be interviewing a Fresno State pre-med student. As the two discussed common stressors that many students face during finals season, Rodriguez began to recollect the stressors she faced at the beginning of her academic career, as a first-generation college student of Latin American heritage who made the pivotal decision to abscond from her culture in pursuit of her dream to become a doctor.

Prior to college, Rodriguez received parochial education, at both the elementary and high school levels. For years, Rodriguez has belonged to a Los Angeles Aztec dance group, which allows her to perform authentic Aztec choreography alongside family and friends. Being rooted in such familial customs, heritage and religious beliefs as these have all served as the core foundations for her overall stability and academic success. So, although the initial pressures Rodriguez faced upon entering college were tremendous, the looming reality that she was the first of her parents’ children to pursue higher education actually served as one of the most prominent factors fueling her desire to succeed.

With momentum and aspiration equally high, Rodriguez entered college. It didn’t take long, however, for her to realize that the California university system was far different than the cultural-based schools she’d been raised in.

Unlike private institutions, schools such as UC Irvine are public, government-funded universities, which welcome academically competent people of any and all ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds. Academic counselors in most public universities are trained to meet the general needs of pupils but usually don’t overextend to accommodate culture-specific deficits. Separation anxiety is also found in many youngsters transitioning to dorm life. These realities may pose as impervious obstacles for someone who has been conditioned to learn in an environment that is structured around one’s own beliefs.

For Rodriguez, being a first-generation college student prevented her from soliciting family guidance in her new and unfamiliar territory. As a result, the grades from Rodriguez’s first two semesters reflect those of a student whose feelings of isolation led to an inability to retain curriculum and an overwhelming desire for the support system she’d grown accustomed to.

Thanks to Rodriguez’s realization that education must take precedence over family, her rocky introduction to college life is nothing more than a distant memory. Now that she’s obtained her credentials, Rodriguez’s wish is to forewarn new students that assimilating into the culture of college is often the biggest hurdle of adjusting to life in public universities.

*****

Julius B. Chatton is a freelance writer, photographer and amateur documentarian of Fresno. Born in Hollywood and raised in the Miracle Mile district of Los Angeles, Julius has had ample exposure to various cultures, religions and political affiliations, which contribute to the levels of empathy he is able to convey in his journalism and literary works. Contact him at snipsnapchatton@hotmail.com or 559-473-3341.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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