Josie: Hello and welcome to Josie and The Podcast. This is Josie Ahlquist, and I am geeked. You are joining me today. This podcast features leaders who share everything from their latest tweet to their leadership philosophy. My goal is to connect tech and leadership with heart, soul, and lots of substance.
Josie and The Podcast is sponsored by Campus Sonar, a social listening agency for higher education. And spoiler alert, students talk about their experiences online a lot. But they’re often not talking to schools or admission folks, even when they’re looking for answers admission’s professions can provide. Like advice on where to go to school, what to expect of the admission’s process, and even just how to make friends on campus. Instead, they take to social channels and forums to ask their peers. Campus Sonar, a higher ed social listening agency and sponsor of this little podcast, decided to dig into this conversation to learn more about the online conversations of current and prospective students. And of course, they are sharing what they learned. Results will be published later this year in 2019. You can sign up now to receive the report first when it comes out at info.campussonar.com/admissions.
Josie and The Podcast is also part of a pretty great higher ed podcasting network called ConnectEDU. Learn more about us and our shows at ConnectEDU.network.
All right. Let’s dig into my amazing featured guest for today. La’Tonya known as LT Rease Miles is the Director of First Year Experience at UCLA where she works to develop initiatives and increase awareness of the first year experience on campus. LT has established two successful programs, specifically for first gen college students. One at UCLA and the other at Loyola Marymount University where we first met. Both of these have been recognized for national best practices. She regularly consults with institutions nationally concerning first generation students and has also advised local high schools about developing programs for their campuses. Finally, she manages a Facebook group called Empowering First Generation Students, which we definitely dig into this episode.
Dr. Miles earned her PhD in American Literature from UCLA, and her research includes the hidden curriculum in higher ed, narratives about the first generation college experience, and the relationship of physical space and college student engagement. Further, she is passionate about NBA basketball, college football, The Flash, and Friday Night Lights.
A few quick highlights from my conversation with LT, obviously about First Generation with LT’s own life and career path and what it means to be first generation now today. We also talk about her role as a creator and documenter of her own life experiences and the needs to educate folks about First Generation nationwide. She shares, “It’s my mission in life to share with everyone everything I know.” You’re going to see her positive perspective in all kinds of opportunities and challenges and all the things that she’s created when she sees unique opportunities to educate, from Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and blogging.
You can find LT and myself on all the socials. They’re all found in the show notes. On Twitter, the podcast of course is JosieATPodcast. I’m @JosieAhlquist, and LT is @DrLTMiles. Everything we talk about from resources, people, and posts is found on my website of the podcast JosieAhlquist.com/podcast.
Josie: LT, I am thrilled to have you on the podcast today. I love to kick off each episode by reading one of your social media bios, and to learn why you included what you did. So I’ve got I think this is your Twitter bio.
LT: Uh oh.
Josie: First Generation college, basketball loving, book nerd. Writing like I’m running out of time. Director of First Year Experience at UCLA. And there were a couple of emojis in there, which I appreciated.
LT: That sounds about right.
Josie: Yeah. So tell us a little bit more with that packed in bio.
LT: Well, I’m definitely a nerd. So I certainly identify as someone who loves to read and loves to learn and even loves homework, believe it or not. And then over time I’ve certainly come to embrace my identify as a first generation college student, and also I’ve identified as a writer for a really, really long time. Back in kindergarten, first grade, I was writing books. Not very good ones, but-
LT: You got to start somewhere. So right now I use writing in all forms, not just sit down pen and a paper. But I would include tweeting and writing on Instagram and Facebook, all that’s part of what I do.
Josie: That’s amazing. Well, I found a couple pieces of your writing that we’ll talk about in just a minute.
LT: You’re such a stalker.
Josie: Yeah, this is what… Yes. I like that in education you get to call it researcher.
LT: Oh, right. That’s right.
Josie: Yeah. But there’s a little stalking involved. Well, talking about Twitter, that was your Twitter bio, what was your most recent post on that platform? And you can cheat if you need.
LT: On Twitter?
Josie: Yeah. If you need to look it up.
LT: I was just tweeting from my car because I was-
Josie: Stopped at a red light.
LT: Yes. You know what, I was in traffic. That was the whole point. I wasn’t going anywhere. So I was tweeting about how as a picture of two cats fighting, and one cat knocks the other cat out. And that was my battle against traffic this morning. So I lost. I was saying, “Me versus the traffic.” TKO, Josie.
Josie: TKO. We’re going to embed that tweet into the show notes. People can really feel the pain of LA traffic because I’m with you.
LT: It’s real.
Josie: And rolling back the clock, what was your earliest memory of technology as a kid?
LT: Are we including TV in this or…
Josie: Whatever comes to mind first.
LT: Well, obviously there was some television. I loved Saturday cartoons. But I was really interested… I don’t know if this is the earliest, but I remember being fascinated by these portable video games that are… If you see them today, they’d just be awkward and clunky. But the handheld baseball game and I had a pocket Simon. I was really fascinated by all these electronic video games that started to come out in the late ’70s, early ’80s. But television would have probably been my very first one.
Josie: And what were some of your go-to cartoons on Saturday morning?
LT: Oh, man. Tom and Jerry, Mighty Mouse, and Flintstones.
Josie: There was this like… Well, I grew up in Wyoming, close to South Dakota, and there was this park called Flintstone Village. It was the closest thing that we had to a Disneyland basically in a very, very small contained… And they recently closed. I was so bummed. So anyway, I love the Flintstones. Bam Bam.
Josie: My girl. No, Pebbles and Bam Bam. That was right. Yeah. He was pretty fun too. So you already started right away talking about how first gen is also your jam. You’ve got platforms on platforms where you are sharing pop culture and resources and building community. But I want to go before that with social because this was kind of baked into you, into your own life experience. So where did that passion start, what was it like throughout your college experience that brought you to who you are today?
LT: With regard to first gen. So you know what, it was very evident to me early on in my life, I was not openly referred to as a golden child. But I certainly felt like a golden child in my family. I was told early and often that I was smart and that I was going to go to college. I was socialized. But I was the only person for a really long time to go to a four year school. My mom was the second. I can come back to that later. Even though I knew I was the first person in my family to go to college, I didn’t know I was first generation. I didn’t know that was a thing. That wasn’t talked about. That wasn’t sort of discussed openly as a category of people that had similarities. So I was able to navigate undergrad still knowing I was the first in my family but not knowing I was first generation. There’s was a lot of hiccups, but it didn’t really, really hit me until I was in my doctoral program at UCLA. So you’re talking I was 25. So I guess that’s when I understood what that term is and what it meant to me.
Number one, it clarified a lot of things. I look back, I was like, “Oh, that’s what that was.” But then I also say that’s where my passion began for really helping other students and other people really understand their significance of being first gen.
Josie: So what did it feel like being known as the golden child? How did that factor into college and being first gen?
LT: Yeah. Mostly for the good. I didn’t grow up with brothers and sisters. So it’s not like there wasn’t any jealousy or anything like that that I had to deal with. But I did have cousins, and I was the oldest. So I was kind of a standard that my younger cousins were held up to. I take that pretty seriously. It was kind of my responsibility to look out for them and hope that they were doing well in school and sometimes having to call school on their behalf and things like that. I think that my family was incredibly supportive of me. So they may not have known what I was doing, and that’s true to this day for the most part. But always, always cheering me on and buying the t-shirts or the sweaters of whatever school I was attending, which first was University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I went to a couple different places, but they supported me and my sports teams all along the way.
Josie: And your sports teams. Solid. Not bad ones.
LT: So now everyone’s a UCLA fan.
Josie: All right. Good. Go Bruins. So you discovered not until you were in your doc program that you had this first gen identity. What was it that happened?
LT: Wow, that’s a really great question. I know what it was. I was working part-time. No, I was working for a federally funded program that I had actually participated in as a undergraduate student. So the McNair Scholars Program, and it specifically targets first generation, low income students of color. So there’s that. It’s telling you right there, this is who you have to pick. So I think it used that language, first generation. And I was the coordinator and then became a director of that program. And it also meant that I hired a number of graduate students who came from similar backgrounds. They served as mentors and tutors and things like that. Also fortunate to have many of them who were getting advanced degrees in education. So they started schooling me. LT, you’re first gen. I was like, what?
I love that though because it also shows that there’s this thing called first gen awareness, and people can be aware of their first gen identity anywhere along the education pipeline. I’ve had people tell me they’d known since kindergarten. I have people tell me they were like me and didn’t know until they were working professionals and helping students from similar backgrounds. It’s really interesting.
Josie: So from doc student to now director, how do you define first gen? What are some of the… Again, you write a bit about resiliency in first gen. What do you find is some of those characteristics that you absolutely love working with that population?
LT: You know what’s funny, I’ve even gotten to the point where I tell people if you feel first gen, then you probably are.
Josie: I love it. We welcome all.
LT: I say that because if you were to bring up first gen identity around let’s say my own children, they know full well that they are not first gen. They grew up on a college campus. They have parents who happen to have graduate degrees. It’s very different if your parents or whoever is your caregiver if they themselves went to college and are able to pass down information. It’s not better or worse. It’s just certainly different. But when I’m thinking of first generation students, I’m largely thinking about folks who are not coming from a college going culture, particularly in the US. And again they’re caregivers, which would include family members potentially don’t have either the resources or the college going knowledge because sometimes you can have resources. But if you don’t have the college going knowledge, it can only get you so far. But really understanding what it means to be a successful college student.
Josie: And from your practices, what are some good practices to support, to empower first gen, whether if you know they are or not?
LT: Yeah. Well, one of the things, here’s what I often see with first gen students and this would include myself, it can be a real challenge because you’re going to school… Often feel like you’re going to school not just for yourself. So if you’re the first, a lot of the hopes… This kind of goes back to the golden child I was talking about. A lot of the hopes maybe put on you or you may feel like if you mess up, then you’re letting down your parents, your brothers, your sisters, your neighborhood, your race. You know what I mean? It’s not an individual endeavor like it often is for other students. So part of supporting first gen students is perhaps twofold. One sort of working with the families and helping, recognizing the parents and families are going to college with the student, and that they might not be able to come home every weekend. Or understand that a major, especially today, a major often is not at all directly correlated to a career. And you have students putting a lot of pressure on themselves to choose careers when they’re choosing their major because they’re seeing college as a way to help the whole family. You know what I mean? That’s a lot of pressure.
At the same time, it also comes with it a lot of, like you just said, resilience, motivation, determination, and ability at some point that someone did something right in order to get to college without the college going knowledge of a family. So there’s something to be said for that level of achievement. And then the next questions would be is now that you’re here, how do you sustain that or how do you go onto either your career or graduate or professional school. So I would also say for the folks who are working with first generation students to not make assumptions about their backgrounds or about their income levels, those types of things. Folks are first gen from… Snoop Dogg’s son was first gen. You know what I mean?
Josie: Sure. That’s widely different.
LT: There’s a big difference. But ironically he didn’t complete college either. I mean, he’s kind of typical first gen in that way.
LT: Came, started, struggled with the major, dropped out. He just has financial resources to back himself up, which the average student doesn’t. But first gens come in all varieties, all backgrounds. Of course they tend to be low income. They tend to be students of color. But you just never know. So I tell, especially faculty at this point, to talk, share their own backgrounds, especially if they were first gen because you never know who’s in front of you.
Josie: Right. Yeah. So I’ve had a number of guests on the podcast that have identified as first gen. It’s come up in a variety of different ways. Do you see a difference between those that are late 20s up to 60s who are first gen versus the teens and early 20s who are first gen today?
LT: That is such an excellent question, and I think it would make an amazing study. What I see now is we’re still in it so it’s hard to make a bold statement about it, but I’m thinking today’s a great example. Later today, UCLA is having it’s fourth annual welcome event for the first gen community on campus. So that means there’s a whole cohort of students that since they’ve been at UCLA have only ever known a first gen welcome. And so five years ago, that was not the case. So right now because we’re really entering a golden era about first gen identity, there are t-shirts, there are buttons, et cetera. So there’s now a whole generation of people I guess that would technically be Gen Z that for whom first generation is something that’s openly celebrated. But then when I talk to, especially people who are probably about 10 years older, 10-15 years older than me, they do talk about the stigma. You don’t talk about your background. You don’t talk about your class background. You don’t talk about the fact that you’re a first generation. So that’s the way I’ve heard about it right now. Yeah.
Josie: Yeah. To have whole programs and events and buttons and-
Josie: Yeah. And the stigma, the shame that’s getting melted away, and social media and some access there, which we’ll get to in just a minute. You already kind of hinted about you as a parent. You’ve got a couple kids in college now, and I think this is just a podcast idea I’m throwing out into the world. I think it would be so fascinating to have a podcast with high rev pros who are parents with college students currently, and the unique struggles because you… It’s almost reverse. You almost know too much.
LT: Can’t get away with that, kid.
Josie: I just think it’s a really fascinating phenomenon. So you’ve got your son who’s at Cal State Northridge. Your daughter just started college I think out in Chicago. And I happen to stumble on a couple really funny posts.
LT: Uh oh.
Josie: I’m not trying to call you out or anything.
LT: Oh, no. It’s fine. That’s why I put it out there.
Josie: Yeah. What is your lens been through parenting, call it now your students, your kids are in college, and how is that impacted how you still support students and parents?
LT: My reason have changed from kid to kid because as you know every student, every child is different, every student is different. So for my son who is a senior, like you said, he was not the strongest student in high school. So he had a lot of doubts about his ability. So having struggled in high school, I think he was anticipating that he would struggle in college. So for his time through university, I think I focused a lot more on his resilience. I know you’ve identified something I wrote on… I think I uploaded that one on LinkedIn. I was really documenting the struggles that he was having trying to find a job as a part-time student, also recognizing he also struggles with anxiety and OCD as well and what that is like. Also trying to make some recommendations for career services because he’s not alone in that. What does it mean for a young person to get rejected so many times? I really, really felt for him. So I used that as a way to… I used Jabari I guess as a way to talk about just what’s happening in general with employment for college students.
And then with Zoe, it’s almost like being first gen again because art school… So she’s at the Art Institute of Chicago. Very prestigious, very expensive art institute. So not just art major but it’s a whole thing. So we had to learn how to navigate a whole-
Josie: It’s a different culture.
LT: Yeah. A whole new culture. So I created a blog. I just needed to document what was going on, and my goal behind that was to help other parents, particularly parents of students of color because there’s I think at her school and I think across the nation, only 4% of student body are African American students. So it’s real low. So I was hoping by documenting what we were going through, that it would be a tool, a useful tool for folks who were about to go through the same thing. So that’s where I think it’s called Art School for Students of Color, pretty straight forward on WordPress. I was documenting this as we were going along. So I had no idea where she was going to end up when I started this blog. It’s really interesting.
Josie: I think that’s something that I really appreciate about you in doing my stalking and digging of you, both for this podcast as well as you’re one of the features in my book, is that you see an issue or an opportunity, a personal experience, and you want to share it in digital ways. And I’m sure there’s ways that you do that on campus within your friends and family, but from your son’s struggles that you turned into a blog post to lessons learned through the process with your daughter going to an art school. You just have this that your brain waves of I’m positive other people are going through this. And the one example that I wrote about in the book was the Facebook group that you created for higher ed pros who are or work with first gen students called Empowering First Generation College Students. So tell us about that Facebook group, how it started. We’ll obviously link to it in the show notes. And then we’ll talk about your other platforms that you’ve made for first gen too.
LT: Sure. So that Facebook group, man, I had no idea. I had no idea it would even be existing still. So it started in 2015. I remember it specifically because a colleague and I, Dr. Dinob Stelzright, we were co presenting at a conference for the First Year Experience. And the workshop was about first gens. So it was one of those four hour pre conference workshops. 20 of us, by the end of the four hours, we had really formed a nice bound and a nice community. In 2015, it was rare to find workshops about first generation students. It was this palpable need among the attendees to stay in touch with one another because we were going to go back to our respected institutions all around the country. So I raised my hand and said, “I’ll create a Facebook group so that we can all stay in touch.” And that’s what I did. It was February 2015, and I think, I suspect what happened is that people in the group, I know I did this, started inviting or adding friends in their network. And it probably grew to about 100 people in the first year, maybe. And now we know first gen is a very hot topic in higher ed. More and more schools are being asked to support these students in an intentional way. There are way more opportunities for workshops and panels and things like that.
LT: So the past, especially this past year, but I would say the past two years, I went from 25 to start with to we get more than 25 new people a week. It’s just been such a great platform. I think the intent behind it has stayed the same. The content shifts a little bit, but the number one goal was to form community. That’s a major part of it.
Josie: What have been some unexpected outcomes?
LT: Oh my goodness. There have been friendships, professional relationships formed. My own personal story is I was meditating on a presentation about first gen narratives and superhero comics, and I just… You know what I mean, you just have a brain fart or something. And I put it in the group, and I said, “Is anyone interested in this topic?” And a person said, “Yeah. I’m interested in this.” And I had not met her. She is my friend now, Martha, who was down at San Diego State. So we met in that Facebook group. We co-presented. The first time we ever met in person was right before our presentation in Orlando, Florida this past year, and we co-presented on superhero narratives. We had such a great time, and that presentation was very well received. So we’re now more likely to publish something out of that.
Josie: Oh, that’s great. Going full circle. Well, I know I’ve added people to that group. So I’m contributing-
LT: Thank you.
Josie: It really is an empowering space for those that identify as first gen or serving them or just wanting to finally connect the dots within their own programs to make things that make sense for that community. So kudos about that. We’ll include all the links that we talk about in these groups in the notes to the show so people can find them. But digging even deeper, you have other platforms that you are educating the world about first gen, both on Instagram and on Twitter called First Gen and Juice. So tell us about those accounts, how it got started and what one could expect on those pages.
LT: Part of it starts back when I was working for Loyola Marymount University where you and I met. The students were organizing First Generation Awareness Week, and I recall there was a student who wanted to print photos of famous people who were first gen. You can’t even do that now, but certainly back then you can’t just Google famous first generation people. We’re just not at that point. So the folks that kept coming up were the same people. So it’s like Oprah Winfrey, Denzel Washington, Sonia Sotomayor. You know what I mean? Just over and over. So the seed was planted then because I was hoping, wishing there was some way, some tool, some mechanism for which we can identify people who are first gen, especially for college aged students, people they can relate to. So that’s part of the story.
The other part of the story is relating back to my son who of course was struggling, trying to find a part-time job while he was in college. And I started a blog called First Gen and Juice, and I was just writing about Snoop Dogg. I was just writing about first gen’s and popular culture in general. And I always wanted to put that… I love that name, and I just wanted to put it on a tshirt just for myself. I may have been talking about it or somehow, I don’t know. But the name came up. So Jabari says to me, “Mom, you really should… That’s a good brand. You really should do something with that.” The lingo changes so I don’t know if he told me if that was hot or if it was cool or if it was dope. You know what I mean? I don’t know what the lingo is anymore, but it all came down to my 19, 20 year old son thought this was a really good idea. So I said to him, “Okay. Well, you do it.”
So he created an Etsy store. He started selling the tshirts, and then my youngest, the art student said, “You can’t do anything without having Instagram attached to it.” So I’m getting all this education from my own children. So Jabari’s schooling me on the business side and what’s hot in the streets. And then Zoe’s telling… Zoe on the other hand is telling me how to promote it. So that’s how the Instagram started. So if you go way, way back, you’ll see the first photos were really just people wearing the shirts and promoting the shirts.
So then my son decided that he wanted to stop the business. He made his money. I guess he was out, right? But the Instagram still was there. I felt bad. I go, “I don’t want to just shutdown the Instagram.” So you can see, I can’t remember where it starts, but you’ll see a gradual shift to away from the shirts and promoting the shirts to just promoting celebrities, popular figures, et cetera who are first in their families, which does require research/stalking to find that out because, again, you can’t just Google and come up with a list.
Then the last thing I’ll add is my daughter really contributed to the look of it as well. Before, it didn’t matter to me what the photos were. I was like, “Oh, cool picture of Michelle Obama. I’ll put it up.” So she said, “No, mom. There should be a color story behind your photos. You need to be more intentional.” So then you’ll also see a shift to that too. You’ll see a thread between the photos. Either it’s a colored background or a color story or poses, that comes from Zoe. She said people pay attention to those things.
Josie: It sounds like I need to get her on this podcast.
LT: You know what, I hate to say it, Josie, but she’s never wrong. I’ll never tell her that.
Josie: She comes from you. Cool. So it started as a family affair, and you just saw this need. Again, I love the connection. You just see this opportunity because just like within leadership and social media, I find we need role models. We need to see real tangible examples, not just thoughts and opinions. So you’re basically curating role models that people probably know because they are celebrities to realize, “Oh my gosh. They were first gen.” That’s a different type of empowerment that also I think… I don’t know how you called it. Something like being hip on the streets or something. I’m obviously not.
LT: Hot in these streets.
Josie: Oh my gosh. Now that I don’t work on a college campus, I feel so out of touch with trends, fashion. Yeah.
LT: They keep you current, don’t they?
Josie: That’s come up a ton in these podcast episodes too is those that do have kids, they use them as sources of knowledge, especially within social. They are their teachers. Like reverse mentorship almost.
LT: Oh, they are my consultants, for sure. Absolutely.
Josie: That is awesome. So you also have a blog too about… And is that one called First Gen and Juice, or do you call that-
LT: Yeah. I don’t update it as much as I used to because so much of my time is spent updating the Instagram or moderating the Facebook group. But there is a First Gen and Juice, and the and is all spelled out, blog where for the most part I really write about representations of first gen students. Like in Dawson’s Creek, for example, or Friday Night Lights, that’s another great example. There’s a number of first generation students who were major characters in the show. Again, they’re not going around saying, “I’m a first generation student.” But it is part of the storyline is what’s it mean for these folks to go to college. So I tend to write about that. And then I do have another blog that I don’t update anymore, but I was also documenting my children’s experiences through middle school and high school and really documenting our experiences with racial microaggressions.
So yeah, I’ve been sort of documenting for a long time. People keep telling me I need to write a book. I think what I would do is just steal from the blogs that I’ve written.
Josie: You know I’ve heard authors do that.
LT: I might do it.
Josie: Yeah. You’re a creator. You’re a documentarian it sounds like just naturally to at least see what you’ve got and then start to weave the storyline all together I think would be so fascinating. So I also wanted to talk about logistics as those listening thinking about how can I apply not only the knowledge about first gen and best practices but the logistics of how to manage multiple blogs and a Facebook group and multiple Instagram and Twitter accounts. So if you could explain a little bit about your process down to timing. You had mentioned one blog you’re not really blogging so much now because of other things. How do you make those choices and strategies?
LT: I really appreciate you asking that question. So for let’s say the Facebook group because as a moderator, I tend to start discussions. Those come about by posting a relevant article. So the secret, the super secret is that I get Google alerts for first generation college, and those Google alerts just so happen to pop up in my email around six o’clock in the morning. I’m usually up shortly after that. So I just very quickly in the morning go through those. So the Google alerts are, as you’re saying, start curating what’s out there, what’s the new news with those keywords. So I’ll just look through those. Obviously I’m an editor too because I’m deciding what to upload, but for the most part, I’m focusing emerging trends. Someone may have asked a question about careers, and then you’ll see an article about first gens and careers. All I do is add the link and sometimes I may copy and paste a line or a quote just to generate people’s interest. But that’s mostly what I do in that Facebook group. I have prune the tree a little bit because I don’t like to have duplicate… I don’t want to have the same article posted twice or I absolutely don’t allow folks to advertise products and things like that. That’s not the point of the group. But that’s 2% of the time.
LT: And then the Instagram, that’s really interesting because, like I said, it’s not an easy task to find out who is first generation. So that does require a little bit of work. I discovered a platform called later.com, which allows you to actually layout your Instagram posts so you can actually see the images before they’re uploaded for up to two weeks at a time. So that allows me to be selective about my color story, to be honest. And it also allows me to type out my posts ahead of time. So honestly what I usually do because I tend to post it on the same time every morning, that’s the time that I’ve found that generates the most likes or whatever. Chances are, 90% of that time I’ve already written out that post, and all I do is go to that app and tell it to upload.
LT: Again, it does take some work to figure out who is first gen, and sometimes I’ll just look at someone on TV and say, “Oh, I wonder if they’re first gen.” That’s a little bit more random. There’s also times where people see something on the news, so they’ll tell me that someone’s first gen. I get that information kind of all over the place. It can come from random spaces and places, or I may read something and then I just make a note of it.
Josie: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I was curious if you ever do a call for submissions or if people send you ideas on their own to help the crowd choice.
LT: Yeah. The one time that that did happen, I would love to do it again, was also another superheroes one. And I had guest writers. I should do that again actually. I know someone was really invested in Harry Potter. So she wrote about… I don’t know if she wrote about Hermione or Harry Potter. There was a whole debate. That would be really fun.
Josie: Yeah. That’s neat. So you had mentioned a specific time to post on Instagram. Would you share what’s your secret sauce time?
LT: Oh yeah. It’s just, for me, it’s early in the morning. So usually around 8:00 a.m., somewhere between 7:00 to 8:00 a.m. Pacific time is… That’s just a sweet spot. I can do something later in the day, and it doesn’t pick up in the same way. The other funny thing too, Josie, is there’s something I often post things and you never know what the response is going to be. Until very recently, our most popular post was about Tia and Tamara Mowry, the twins. Everyone just, I don’t know… We got so much traction over that one post. It was just a Happy Birthday to them. It was so popular. You just never, never know.
Josie: First generations.
LT: It just hilarious to me. I love it. That’s what I love about it.
Josie: That’s awesome. Dig it. Well, we’ve talked a lot about resources that you have created in digital communities and spaces. What are some of your recommended resources from books, podcasts, people to follow, you mentioned a conference earlier, that may have to do with first gen or anything else that you’re passionate about?
LT: I used to say I was really Twitter awkward, and I think I still am. I’m getting a little bit better. But there’s some great folks on Twitter including Sonja Ardoin who is a professor. She’s at Appalachian State right now. I love how just open she is about her life and what she’s doing and what she’s reading. So she’s really fun to follow. There’s also I’d love to just give a shout out to a number of folks who are also using digital platforms to promote first gen identity, whether it’s a podcast or Twitter. So big shout out to first gen docs who are basically, these are folks who are first gen to college and now in doctoral programs. They are using Twitter as a way to support one another so they have a virtual writing group. So from a certain time to another certain time, everyone can sort of log in and do virtual check-ins. It’s just I wish I’d had that. And then Dr. Eve Hudson is doing the First Gen Lounge, which is another podcast. So there’s some really interesting folks taking advantage of social media right now. I think part of it is that it’s low cost, but then just the opportunity to reach a wide audience. Who wouldn’t take advantage of that?
LT: So people at home listening, she did not pay me to say this. But Josie, I just have to say how much of an inspiration you are because what you are able to do is provide people like me with a vocabulary for talking about something that feels very sort of natural and organic and obvious to me. You are able to reflect it back and also show people the hidden curriculum of what it is that we’re doing. I was inspired by you, and recently here at UCLA put a call out to fellow colleagues in student affairs inviting them to join what we call The Social Media Influencers Group. And then I tagged you in it because I said you’d be really proud of me. But I just wanted to say what those photos don’t capture is the sense of excitement that people had in the room, and then also there’s a nervousness about am I really an influencer. And I was channeling you and telling them, “Yes, yes you are.” And that’s totally okay.
LT: So I suspect that’s really going to take off. There were a lot of people who could not attend and wanted to be there. So we’re going to have a followup group meeting at the end of the quarter, and who knows where it’ll take us.
Josie: Well, I appreciate the shout out and that you are inspired. I think it’s all about intentionality and these platforms can just be busy work unless we put some purpose behind them.
LT: That’s true.
Josie: And you’ve had purpose this whole time, even though maybe you didn’t have some of the language for it. But I love shining the light on you and getting you on this podcast.
Josie: Oh my gosh, there was another question I was going to ask, and you just made me blush with giving me a shout out. Oh, what can people expect of you next? Are you going to be at a conference? Are you working on some book? Where’s the group going to be expanding from here? Anything in the next year?
LT: Yeah. Okay. So number one, I’ll be in Arizona next week at the Northern Arizona University Southwest Symposium for First Generation Students. I’m the keynote for that one. Number two, thanks to a lot of peer pressure from some good friends of mine, we’ve actually revised the First Gen and Juice brand. So we will be selling the tshirts again but with a different look this time. So stay tuned for that. I have to get the Etsy store up to date. It takes a little minute. So that’s pretty exciting. My son’s not involved this time around. So all the work is on me this time. So I’m like… The fans have been asking. And then I’m always thinking about best practices for first gen students, and right now I’m really, really, really trying to finish up an essay about how facilities and maintenance and food service workers service, the fancy word is institutional allies. But the point is that they are mentors and for our particularly first gen students. But yet they’re not recognized as such because they’re in a different hierarchy in the system. I wrote a blog about it, but I actually want to develop it a little bit more. So I’m really pushing myself to complete my thought because sometimes I’ll come up with a great idea but then don’t go back to it.
Josie: It sounds like we might be caught a little [crosstalk 00:49:59][inaudible 00:49:59]. So many ideas at the beginning, and then how do I do all these. I mean, I’ll definitely link to that blog, and I think that’s a really important conversation and a piece to maybe conference session or whatever else you’re looking to expand it next. I think that’s really powerful.
LT: I think what I need to do… Sometimes our ideas just maybe too big at the onset. It’s really like honing in. What’s the one good idea I’m trying to say, and then focus on that and make it more manageable.
Josie: Well, two more questions to ask that I ask every guest is bringing it back to social media and leadership and impact is whatever your favorite platform is right now. If you knew your next post was going to be your last, what would you want it to be about?
LT: If it was going to be my last, then I’d probably have to have some kind of quote from The Godfather, which… Oh my goodness, I’m such an idiot. The Godfather One and Two, I said my favorite movie recognizing that there are more than one. And that is like a favorite in my household. My mom loves that movie. My husband loves that movie. And I understand that it is violent. I understand we’re talking about gangsters. But there’s a lot of my inspiration comes from Al Pacino’s portrayal of Michael Corleone. I can’t think of a particular quote, but it’d probably involve The Godfather in some kind of way.
Josie: I would’ve never guessed that about you. But I kind of also love that.
LT: Got to keep you on your toes.
Josie: Yes. You and my husband will be watching that movie and quoting that movie.
Josie: Well, taking it back to today and all the different platforms that you run and manage and the impact that you’re having on and off campus. What is your why? Why are you choosing to have this presence on a variety of different digital platforms and the purpose behind them?
LT: I said this before to my mom, and I was half joking. And then once I said it out loud, I realized I was dead serious. That it’s my mission in life to share with others everything that I know. So I guess it’s not literally everything, but I guess it also comes back to being a first generation student and also being a golden child, being the representative. It felt like it was my job, my responsibility to help my cousins. So I guess you continue that analogy I feel like everyone’s my cousin now. So I’ve had some opportunities that other people did not, and the way I give back is to share what I learned by going there. I had been able to see so many things. My grandparents never, ever… They didn’t or won’t be able to. So when I went to Barcelona, I want to tell my grandma what it was like. Because I know she won’t be able to do it. So I think it’s the same kind of mindset of me being blessed or offered an opportunity. And I show my gratitude by telling others what I found out. So whether it’s how to navigate art school or, “Hey, look who I found out was a first gen student! Now you know too.” That’s really my mindset.
Josie: That really brings this back full circle to the very beginning of our conversation. Well, if people haven’t already stalked you down and followed you on all the places, where can people find you to connect?
LT: So they can definitely find me on Facebook. So I post just as myself, La’Tonya Rease Miles, and if you’re interested in specially a virtual community about first gen students, it would be Empowering First Generation College Students is our Facebook group. Oh, definitely First Gen and Juice, Gen is spelled G-E-N and juice, and spelled out. That is both on Twitter and on Instagram. And then I have my own personal Twitter account, which, again, isn’t nearly as fun as First Gen and Juice. I think that’s just La’Tonya07 I think. I don’t even remember. I think it’s just my whole name actually. That tells you how much I care about that one.
Josie: Oh, well. We’ll like to it all so they can see your traffic jam memes and gifs. I sure hope very soon because we live in the same darn city that we are going to meet up. Let’s just manifest that and put it out into the world. But this will have to do for now. This was such a fun conversation and I’m just such a fan of the work that you do and you’re philosophy and mindset, having ideas, putting them to action, sharing your knowledge out into the world. It’s just so inspiring.
LT: Well, thank you, Dr. Josie. You’ve been amazing. It’s been awesome be a little bit on the sidelines and watch your trajectory as well. You’re such a great role model.
Josie: Well, and also it feels like a different lifetime when we both worked at LMU together. For being such a small campus, just across the street from the other, yeah, it was only a matter of time to finally…
Josie: LT keeps it real and relatable while she has a laser focus on serving and educating through a very, very approachable style. So I could not wait to get her on to chat more and learn her story and share her story on this podcast. And it was neat. Maybe you reflected on your own identity and your career and college path. She didn’t even realize she was a first generation student until she was a doctoral student seeing the definitions of what that first generation definitions actually were. She gave us a few definitions to build from for our own as well as best practices to consider. But I also love how simple she stated it, “If you feel you are first gen, then you probably are.” She also shares, “I find first generation as folks who are not coming from a college going culture.” And I think that’s also something interesting to consider is you could still have a family member or a few that maybe went, but that doesn’t mean necessarily that you still are part of a culture that goes to college and maybe we need to expand definitions.
I would love to hear whatever other first generation services, programs, initiatives that you have going on on your campus. LT of course shared what she’s doing at UCLA and other best practices she’s sharing around from making sure that you’re creating branded materials from t-shirts and buttons to an entire celebration and events at the beginning of the academic year. And of course another big part of the episode was her mission. Sharing everything she knows with everyone she knows. And this is a priority and an opportunity that she shows up on social media. Maybe she doesn’t have all the language or the highly technical skills, and those many times are just built on the go, on the fly. As you figure it out, you don’t have to be a master of Facebook groups to start one. But you do need to have a mission and a purpose and a focused set of people that you want to attract. And she has done that.
Again, we’ll include the links in the show notes to all the different digital platforms and communities that she has built out. And we also talk a little bit more about her family, her kids now in college and what that looks like for her being previously first gen and now her kids obviously by definition are not. But their needs are still evolving and she continues to see ways that she can document her own process of discovery. For example, her daughter Zoe now going to an art institute, and LT documenting that learning curve of being a parent to a student of color looking at art school’s a whole different lens and an opportunity to document and create and build community just about that specific lived experience.
And then of course the family affair also is what pulled LT into creating this brand behind First Gen and Juice, and I would absolutely recommend you go and check out the Instagram, the Twitter, the blog that she has built around this branding. And the intent behind it is building that first gen awareness that you may not even realize some of these well known public personas we’re actually first gen, and that might actually be one small way that we break the barriers or the perceptions of what it means to be first gen. And that this first idea came from her son that was then passed down to her. So all these things always come back to family in full circle about mission, life, and leading.
So again, make sure to go check her out. She’s a fun follow whether it’s her own individual accounts or the First Gen and Juice stuff, all really great stuff to consider. So LT, thank you so, so very much. We got to get a happy hour or a meet up on the books. We live in the same darn city. I’ll show up at UCLA I guess if I have to. I will totally deal with the West Wood parking in order to actually see you face to face. But this conversation was just so nice and fun and free flowing, and that’s just a perfect podcast episode for me to be able to host.
So this was such a golden episode as she referred to herself as the golden child. Now turned golden leader. LT, keep sharing your truth and telling stories. People are listening and learning from you.
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