Natalie Reyes

Major and Classification

Law, History, and Culture

Faculty Mentor

George Sanchez, Ph.D., Departments of History & American Studies and Ethnicity


Dornsife: Law, History, and Culture

Research Gateway Project

“A New Movement: Identifying as Latino and First Generation College Students at the University of Southern California”

Project Abstract

Many Latino students at the University of Southern California (USC) are first generation college students and lack the social capital many of their peers utilize to navigate the university setting. This study seeks to understand how first generation college students identifying as Latinos perceive USC’s campus environment and how attending the university influences the way they define their ethnic identity and perception of higher education. Existing scholarship emphasizes how family values and community demographics influence students’ sense of ethnic identification prior to attending college. Additional literature shows that in many cases, Latinos’ immersion into the social environment of college campuses leads to a fluctuation in ethnic identification. At prestigious universities, like USC, first generation college students tend to feel disconnected from more affluent white peers. This study employs oral history interviews of first generation college students who self-identify as Latino to understand how they negotiate ethnic identity. Findings indicate identity formation impacts students’ involvement in student organizations, influences diverse beliefs of the purpose of college education and affects family relationships. Due to feeling like a minority, attending USC leads many students to strengthen their sense of ethnic identity and to perceive their first generation college status as a privilege for creating a difference in their families.