Being a Hispanic First-Generation College Student | UC Davis

Students pass the blooming magnolia tree outside Briggs Hall on February 22, 2023.
Gregory Urquiaga/ UC Davis

As a first-gen student of color, finding my sense of belonging has been my biggest struggle. Up until college, I had yearned for this feeling of acceptance my whole life. Growing up in a highly critical community for so long, I never expressed my true self due to the fear of being ridiculed by others. I spent a majority of my life trying to prove my worth. In doing so, I pursued higher education as a way to escape the pressures and expectations of growing up in a low-income community.  

Choosing a College

Choosing a university where I felt secure in being my true self wasn't easy. The moment I stepped foot on the UC Davis campus, I instantly knew it was where I wanted to spend the next four years of my life. The scenery and college town feel was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. This voice in my head and gut feeling convinced me it was the only place for me.

Little did I know that this decision would completely transform me into the person I am today. I was given the opportunity to step foot into an environment where I was truly able to be myself without any fear or regret. However, to make this transformation possible, I had to overcome a lot of difficulties from my youth and learn how to navigate college as a first-gen student of color.

Experiencing Culture Shock

Coming from East Los Angeles, where over 95% of the population is Hispanic/Latinx, I experienced culture shock from the sheer amount of diversity at UC Davis. Living in this bubble for so long where everyone I encountered looked like me, it was difficult to assimilate and interact in a completely unfamiliar space. I quickly had to learn how to find my community along with thousands of other undergrads. It felt like a race. The longer I waited, the more solid friend groups started to form and the less likely people were to talk to me.

 For the first few weeks, I felt out of place. What started as a drive to pursue a better life for my family and me and to provide representation for my community turned into feelings of self doubt. I questioned my ability and if college was the right path for me. I felt as if I was going through this new chapter in my life with no support or knowledge on how to navigate it. As a result, I sought out support and resources anywhere I could. 

Finding Community

At first, it was not just one resource or student center at UC Davis that helped me, but the community itself that made me feel a sense of belonging. The UC Davis community is the most friendly, supportive and helpful group of peers I have ever interacted with. The friends I made my first year, who still continue to be my strongest support system to this day, helped me overcome these feelings of doubt. They unconditionally and continuously affirmed me, recognized my accomplishments and truly saw the impact I can make in this world. 

No one at UC Davis sat by to watch me struggle, but instead guided me to a place that made me feel confident in anything I was doing. Slowly, I started to feel comfortable. I finally found people who looked like me and could relate to my experiences and struggles. 

Getting Involved

A couple of months in, I found opportunities that specifically catered to me and helped me grow my support system. I started to become more involved and, through these experiences, found the community I had been yearning for. Over the years, I volunteered with ASUCD Entertainment Council, secured a job as an academic peer mentor, joined a fraternity, became a writer for the California Aggie, worked as an orientation leader, found community in the Center for Chicanx and Latinx Academic Success Center, received amazing internship opportunities in and outside of school, and so much more. Meeting such an amazing group of individuals opened the doors to help me express my true self and finally feel like I belong. 


Emmanuel Fonseca smiling in front of UC Davis's Mrak Hall
Emmanuel Fonseca/ UC Davis

Emmanuel Fonseca is a fourth-year student at UC Davis studying sociology and communication. Emmanuel’s favorite movie franchise is Harry Potter, he is a member of the Slytherin House, and has a collection of artifacts related to the series. You can catch Emmanuel spending most of his time on the top floor of the Hutchinson Field parking structure and watching the sunset after a long day of work. Check out Emmanuel's article about UC Davis's efforts to become an HSI!


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