The Collegian
Saturday, April 20, 2024

UR Commemorates National First-Generation Week with Heartwarming Celebrations

Lisa Miles, associate director of the University of Richmond's Student Center for Equity and Inclusion, orchestrated a celebratory dinner on Nov. 8 to mark the beginning of National First-Generation Week. The celebration brought together approximately 40 attendees, creating a warm atmosphere reminiscent of an early Thanksgiving dinner.

Miles discussed  UR’s developments, noting the benefits of its growing class diversity.

"Our socio-economic diversity has significantly increased over the past 10-15 years,” Miles said. “This has broadened the scope of classroom conversations and provided students with valuable opportunities to connect across differences, gaining insights into the diverse lived experiences of individuals from various backgrounds."

She emphasized UR’s commitment to fostering diversity, highlighting the value of both first-generation and limited-income students on campus. 

"First-generation students and limited-income students are not the same, but there is definite overlap between the groups, and having both groups on campus definitely adds value to the Richmond experience," she said.

The New York Times published an analysis based on millions of anonymous tax records for the class of 2013, indicating that the median family income of a student is $149,200, with 63% of students coming from the top 20% of income earners. However, less than 1% of UR students who came from low-income families later achieved high economic status as post-graduates.

Miles stated that 15% of the incoming class of 2027 are first-generation students, and he referenced data from the Office of Institutional Effectiveness indicating that 14% of the incoming class of 2016 received Pell grants.

Throughout the week, UR hosted a series of events on campus.

It began with a kickoff celebration on the second floor of the Boatwright Memorial Library, which was transformed into a hub of displays, offering students a chance to connect and share their experiences. Attendees engaged in discussions and shared stories all while enjoying snacks and refreshments.

"This week is a chance to honor the accomplishments of first-generation and low-income students and shed light on the often-hidden challenges we face,” Junior Maxwell Gagnon, a first-generation student at UR, said. “Many of these hurdles go unnoticed unless you've walked in our shoes." 

Sitting at a round table with other first-generation students, Stacey Calderon-Castillo, a former first-generation student who now serves as a study abroad advisor at UR, also gave her insights on the meaning she gives to first-generation week.

"To me, it's a time to realize and appreciate people who are in the same situation as you, building a community where you feel included, supported and seen, which ultimately makes us feel proud," Stacey Calderon-Castillo said.

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Crystal Hoyt, a psychology and leadership studies professor at UR, prepared a speech after the Wednesday dinner on her journey as a first-generation student from a low-income background studying at Claremont McKenna College. She emphasized the concept of a growth mindset.

"There's something about being able to just quickly and without having to make a lot of effort to do things and I'm here to call bullshit on all of that. Mindsets are our glasses we use to view the world and are really important for our well-being and our flourishing." Hoyt said.

"Don't let yourself feel intimidated by those with more wealth or a seemingly more enriched background,” Glen Kettering, a FLI sophomore present at the celebration, said. “Just remember, you were admitted to this school for a reason." 

Senior first-generation student Samuel Ghali noted the importance of pursuing opportunity and staying true to yourself. 

"I don't like pushing the narrative of 'you can do anything, you could change the world’,” Ghali said. I think you're given opportunities, and you can do those things because they're made available for you. We're resilient and courageous; just go out and explore, be confident in yourself." 

When asked about what the First-Generation National Week means to him, he added that it’s nice to be celebrated and have his identity recognized.  

"It is nice to be celebrated, and my identity being known and having a conversation with Tina Hallock wouldn't have happened without first-generation week," Ghali said.

Contact contributing writer Claire Le Du at Claire.ledu@richmond.edu.

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