“People Like Us”: Theorizing First-Generation College as a Marker of Difference

Chase Bollig


Although composition scholars have long advocated for working-class and under-represented populations on campus, the emergence of “first-generation college” as a marker of difference in public, administrative, and scholarly discourses invites further consideration of how we theorize this marker. As a bureaucratic marker (originating in higher education administration) that exhibits potential for organizing students for self-advocacy across difference, “first-generation college” warrants particular attention from scholars interested in the intersections between literacy studies and rhetoric. This article initiates a conversation about FGC as a marker of difference, observing that the bureaucratic and rhetorical nature of “first-generation college” as a marker necessitates a constitutive rhetorical approach to the term, an investigation of how the use of the term articulates a literate positionality, situates it within local and cultural narratives, and assigns it value. Placing composition scholarship in conversation with interviews with 17 first-generation college and low-income students and alumni of a large state university, this article reads first-generation college literate positionality in light of students’ own use of the identifier and within the context of their accounts of navigating class difference in college.


first-generation college students; working-class; race; composition studies; literacy sponsorship

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.21623%2F1.7.1.3

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