What Does it Mean to be First

Defining First-Generation Students


  • Rebecca Stallworth Simmons University
  • Danielle Maurici-Pollock Simmons University
  • Africa Hands University of Buffalo




first-generation student, definition, higher education


First-generation students have been receiving increasing attention from LIS researchers. But who are first-generation students? The term has been inconsistently defined in scholarly literature, and a recent analysis of research university websites found over 80 definitions in use on university websites. In this interactive panel, we will discuss how the term first-generation student is defined and used, which students may or not be considered first-generation in particular contexts, and the uses, meaning, and utility of the category for researchers, academic institutions, and students themselves.

Author Biographies

  • Rebecca Stallworth, Simmons University

    Rebecca Davis is an assistant professor in the School of Library and Information Science at Simmons University. Her research focuses on marginalized groups and their use of academic library resources and first-generation students.

  • Danielle Maurici-Pollock, Simmons University

    Danielle Maurici-Pollock is an assistant professor at the Simmons University School of Library and Information Science. Along with Dr. Davis, she has been examining first-generation students’ information-seeking in their paths to and through graduate education.

  • Africa Hands, University of Buffalo

    Africa S. Hands is an assistant professor in the Department of Information Science at the University at Buffalo. Her current research agenda examines public libraries as an information resource for college-bound patrons and the experiences of first-generation students - both as users of academic libraries and students and professionals in the LIS field.


Davis, R., & Maurici-Pollock, D. (forthcoming). Who are first-generation graduate students and why should LIS care? Journal of Education for Library and Information Science.

Peralta, K. J., & Klonowski, M. (2017). Examining conceptual and operational definitions of “first-generation college student” in research on retention. Journal of College Student Development, 58(4), 630–636. https://doi.org/10.1353/csd.2017.0048

Toutkoushian, R. K., May-Trifiletti, J. A., & Clayton, A. B. (2021). From “First in Family” to “First to Finish”: Does college graduation vary by how first-generation college status is defined? Educational Policy, 35(3), 481–521. https://doi.org/10.1177/0895904818823753






Panels (Juried)