What does it feel like to be a first-generation college student at Johns Hopkins University? What does your journey look like? Where can you go for support? What are the types of challenges will you encounter?
An initiative launched in 2018 by the University Archives seeks to answer these important questions. In the past two years, archivists have conducted 10 oral history interviews with first-generation college students, with plans to add more each year. These one-on-one conversations allow students to reflect on their experiences more fully. Students have offered thoughts on moving to Baltimore, adjusting to a rigorous academic atmosphere, and the ways in which they learned to navigate new environments. Interviewees are in their final year at Hopkins, and offer thoughtful moments of self-reflection.
Through this project, the Archives has welcomed the addition of voices previously unheard in its collections. The project also exists to serve future first-generation college students at Hopkins; our hope is that these intimate interviews share students’ insights and experiences, and thus provide a sense of solidarity and support. Interviews from the first-generation Students Oral History Project are accessible online. We aim to increase awareness about the interviews and specifically share them more widely with first-generation college students in the future.
Oral history interviews present an indelible connection to the past. Historian Donald A. Ritchie states in his book Doing Oral History that oral history collects “memories and personal commentaries of historical significance through recorded interviews.” These interviews have the power to transport us to a time and place described by the interviewee, they help us imagine daily life years ago, and they illuminate the experience of ordinary humans. They also allow for moments of deep self-reflection from the interviewee. These interviews also encourage us to engage thoughtfully on questions of memory, nostalgia, and collective remembrance. What do people remember? How do they tell their stories? What can we learn from them? How do their stories compel us to reevaluate our collective past? Historians and scholars interpret oral history interviews as primary source records, from which they can gather first-hand knowledge of historic events or periods. The benefits of reading through transcripts and listening to oral history interviews are profound.
Johns Hopkins University’s Class of 2023 is made up of 15% first-generation college students and as writer Rudy Malcom recently reported in the News-letter, that percentage continues to grow each year. They continue to develop a support network which involves confronting feelings of imposter syndrome and encouraging one another to ask for help. Truly, each student has a unique story that is meaningful and valuable. These stories are worth sharing with wider audiences around campus and with future students who may encounter similar situations. Programs like the first-generation Students Oral History Project show how necessary and vital students’ stories are to the Archives.