Cover of Lucid journal
The inaugural issue of Lucid features a watercolor by student Mayra Sierra called “Imagination.” Her artwork is woven throughout the journal, which showcases prose, poetry and visual art by first-generation UCI undergraduates.

Lucid isn’t your typical journal. Its writers are all first-generation UCI undergraduates, most of whom have never been published before – many don’t even want to write for a living. What they have are powerful stories and a drive to tell them to the world. Included in the inaugural issue are works in myriad forms on the theme “Borders & Belonging.”

One is the medical anthropology essay “My Mother’s Migraines.” Senior Mariel Calva describes her mother’s silent battle and how she eases her suffering while lacking healthcare. But the essay is only a small part of a larger feature: an interview with Calva, in which she reveals the sense of empowerment she developed during the writing process.

Another is an autoethnography – a personal essay connected to broader social issues – titled “A Lifelong Struggle,” by junior Tracy-Han Lam. She writes humorously about identifying as Black and Vietnamese and struggling to fit in first in a poverty-stricken pocket of San Bernardino, then a prestigious high school and finally UCI – a journey that makes her “a warrior” in the end.

Woven throughout the journal and featured prominently on the cover is sophomore Mayra Sierra’s artwork. One striking piece, an oil painting called “Awakening the Dragon” is, the art major says, “a reminder of the power within ourselves – especially for first-generation students who are trying to find themselves as individuals and their role as part of the collective.”

Lucid was first published this spring by Rachael Collins and Scott Lerner – both lecturers in the Department of English’s composition program – who were blown away by the work they were seeing in their courses. They’ve taught many of the 10,000 students each year who complete their lower-division writing requirements through the composition program, giving them a window into the minds of UCI’s newest students.

The two were particularly impressed by those who didn’t see themselves as writers. In fact, the stories highlighted above were not crafted by English majors. Calva is a public health policy major, while Lam is a biological sciences major. Their writing bubbled from their experiences as pioneers in a world unknown to their parents, stories often stigmatized or kept in the margins of awareness.

The diversity of the stories resonated with both instructors. Collins had attended community college as a first-generation student after being homeschooled for most of her life. It introduced her to a web of experiences she felt she couldn’t share with her parents or her college administrators. Adding to her sense of being different, Collins was a single mother when she transferred to UCI as an undergraduate and then continued to work toward her goal of becoming an educator by earning an M.A. in English at Johns Hopkins University and a Ph.D. in English at UCI.

“While all that was happening, I kept thinking about what kind of teacher I would become,” Collins says. “I mentor a lot of young teachers now, and my advice to them is always the same: Really think about what kind of teacher you needed – not necessarily the ones that you admire but the kind you needed while you were in school.” With Lucid, she’s trying to create a platform for a community whose stories have traditionally struggled to find an outlet.

Lerner’s work on Lucid is inspired by a similar past. “When I went to UCLA [as an undergrad], I never told anybody that I was a transfer student or that I was a first-generation student,” recalls the lecturer, who received an M.F.A. from UCI in 2016. “There was a stigma about being first-gen that was compounded by being a transfer student. Everyone seemed to be a step ahead of me. They understood how to speak the language of the university that I was very much still figuring out. This translated into wondering how and where my work or writing fit in, if at all.”

Witnessing students undergoing what he had motivated Lerner to do more as an instructor. “In my writing classes and just in conversations with students, I recognized so much of their work as powerful, important and much braver than what I was producing as an undergrad – but I wasn’t sure they were seeing that as well,” he says. “We wanted to create a journal that would serve as a home for this work – and for that journal to be something in which students see themselves and are proud to be a part of.”

The theme of “Borders & Belonging” was kept broad so that students could feel free to express themselves as they wished. The name of the journal, Lucid, echoes this intention too, since its focus is on the power of the imagination. (In addition, its letters contain “UCI.”) For content, Collins and Lerner drew from compositions they had received in class, but they also reached out to a diverse set of students through a number of first-gen events on campus.

The second issue, themed “Transitions & Transformations,” will include works on grappling with COVID-19, social unrest and the economic collapse. Submissions of short stories, poetry, photography, personal essays, graphic art, creative nonfiction, interviews, research, visual art and flash fiction are welcome.

“Students now are starting to lay claim to their own experiences and voices in a way that they didn’t when I was in college 20 years ago,” Collins says. “Most of us who came from underrepresented communities would do our work and then talk among ourselves about these issues, but I’ve noticed in recent years that not only has the university begun to provide better resources for these students, but the students themselves have become increasingly vocal, increasingly proud to share their experiences.”