First-gen social work student impacts residential living at UT Austin

Grace Farley

Grace Farley. Photo by Montinique Monroe

The transition from high school to UT Austin wasn’t easy for social work major Grace Farley. As a first-generation college student, the application process was a challenge in itself. But becoming a full-time student brought even more stress and pressure.

“Every failure or setback I faced, felt like I was letting down everyone who supported me: my family, supervisors, high-school counselors, teachers and even my coaches,” Farley said. “I thought getting a low grade on a test, being rejected from an academic organization or not living up to social expectations meant I didn’t deserve to be at UT.”

She quickly learned that adjusting to college life isn’t an overnight process. Rather than becoming discouraged, she decided to use this challenge as motivation. As a sophomore, Farley became a resident assistant (RA) for the university’s first Living Learning Community (LLC) for first-gen students. 

“I wanted to be an RA because they’re close to first-year students and support them as they go through the difficult journey of learning how to love themselves,” she said. “I’m comfortable with the messy and complicated parts of life. I want to be a friend and an ally to my residents as they face setbacks.”

Living Learning Communities merge the worlds of school life and home to build a support system among students. Students accepted into the first-gen LLC live together in Jester West Residence Hall to create peer connections. They build camaraderie through weekly meetings on various topics such as grit and resilience, academic success and health and wellness. Residents even have an opportunity to match with faculty mentors who are first-gen college graduates, engage in cultural experiences and service learning activities.

Grace FarleyFarley is responsible for planning events and gatherings for her residents throughout the year. At the beginning of the semester, Farley provided her residents with a guided campus tour to help them find their classes and the best places to study. She takes pride in being someone the residents can confide in. She believes her role as an RA coincides with her desire to become a social worker.

“I think my biggest strength as an RA is that my social work background has prepared me for combating this feeling of failure,” she said. “My social work classes have instilled in me a firm belief in the idea of self-determination. As an RA, it would be easy to assume I know what’s best for my residents, but because of social work, I know that people are experts of their own lives.” 



By Montinique Monroe. Posted on Oct. 21, 2019.