Hermione Granger Can Teach Us a Lot About What It’s Like to Be a First-Generation Student

If there’s one thing that I am sure of, it is that Harry Potter is one of the major staples of our generation. Most of the people my age have grown up with the books, the movies, the games, and the references. One thing that often gets overlooked, however, is the extent to which Hermione Granger is representative of a first-generation college student (just like me and most of my friends).

Let us get something straight: Hermione Granger is not simply the “brightest witch of her generation.” She epitomizes what it means to be a first-generation college student and shows us the pitfalls of being in that position. More than that, though, she shows us a way of being a first-gen student with grace. Hermione Granger struggles to find her place in the magical world, you see, but she does so with an outstanding amount of success (considering, in the muggle world, how 90% of low-income, first-generation college students do not graduate within six years). Readers can see, through Hermione, an avenue for understanding first-generation students better. Let’s start from the very beginning. In the Sorcerer’s Stone, Hermione Granger doesn’t make friends easily. This, I feel, can be related to two big points. Hermione, like many first-gen students I know, feels the need to work three times as hard to feel confident in her abilities as a Hogwarts student. Hermione loves to learn, yes, but at least part of her enjoyment of being at Hogwarts is that it allows her to prove that she belongs at Hogwarts, that she is as much a student of magic as everyone else. Very relatable. The second point, I think, is that students who aren’t first-gen—the Ron Weasleys or Draco Malfoys of the world, we’ll say (that is, not necessarily bad or good)—take Hogwarts (or, you know, school in general) a bit for granted. Squibs (non-magic people born to largely magical families) are fairly rare; the students who are coming to Hogwarts from a lineage, therefore, grow up believing that magical schooling is assumed for them. It’s rarely ever an if. The same cannot be said for first-gen Hogwarts or college students. The consequence, then, is that being a first-generation student is infinitely frustrating when other people seem to take their roles as students less seriously than you do. Many people simply don’t value the things that first-generation students do. And that marks a huge difference between the two groups. We see these same prioritizations further in the Sorcerer’s Stone: “We could all have been killed - or worse, expelled!” Hermione Granger, as a first-gen student, cannot initially feel the same sense of security that Harry and Ron do about their standing at Hogwarts. The implication here, though it may seem silly, is that death would not be worse than a life without magic. It’s extreme, but I think that it captures the survival instinct for many first-gen students in college. Because Hermione is from a non-magic family, she is often made to feel out of place by her peers (both intentionally and unintentionally). Though her parents are invited along to buy supplies with the Weasley family in Chamber of Secrets, her parents are ultimately lost in this new world and don’t fully know what to make of everything. In The Order of the Phoenix, a beautiful—but heartbreaking—moment in the series comes when Hermione asks Harry if she can borrow Hedwig to let her parents know that she’s been made a Hogwarts prefect: “Harry—could I borrow Hedwig so I can tell Mum and Dad? They’ll be really pleased—I mean, prefect is something they can understand.” Though this is a huge accomplishment for her, it really highlights that each development she makes in her education pulls her a bit further away from her parents. This is one of the few moments where it doesn’t.

And the beautiful thing of Hermione is that she doesn’t accept these things at face value. She proves people wrong in class and makes fantastic friends and even develops SPEW (Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare) to advocate for another marginalized group. After the war, she uses her schooling to continue bridging gaps for muggle-born people in the magical world.​And Hermione does these things because she knows she is not alone. She knows that for every student like her that is successful, there are at least 9 who are struggling. She knows that, as much as her community would like to gloss over her existence, there are many students with the same fears and dreams as her.

These are the beauties that a lot of first-generation students bring to the table. Having Hermione Granger as our heroine helps us make sense of those beauties and some of the struggles first-gen students go through to do well on our campuses. It’s your job to acknowledge these differences and to keep them in mind as we all move forward.​

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