First Generation Students Celebrate Accomplishments

Steve ScarpaNovember 15, 20224min

For students who are the first in their families to go to college, the process can be daunting. The challenges, however, can make the accomplishments that much sweeter.

“To come to a place like Wesleyan takes hard work and dedication. You have to be innovative and creative, and show courage to take the risk to forge your own path,” said April Ruiz, Dean for Academic Equity, Inclusion, & Success.

In celebration of “FGLI (first generation-low income) Appreciation Week,” about 50 students, faculty, and staff came together in the Woodhead Lounge in Exley Hall November 8 for snacks, fellowship, and the chance to connect with one another. “We are honoring your journey of being here,” Ruiz said to the students.

Clara Medina ’26 was pleasantly surprised at the number of people celebrating. It was her first time attending an FGLI event. “I think it is really cool to have this space,” Medina said.

Over the course of the week, students also participated in a series of workshops and social events: conversations about the possibility and the challenges of social mobility, getting resume tips at the Gordon Career Center, and having the chance to be together at a cozy hangout session and a Formal at Beckham Hall.

“I’ve been to a few of these events already and I feel like it’s really important to have a community where we can connect with each other. It’s really important that we take our space and make our voices heard,” said Paul Quach ’26.

National First Generation College Day is celebrated on the November 8 anniversary of the 1965 Higher Education Act, an effort intended to remove the barriers low-income families faced in pursuing higher education. The legislation also ushered in programs, like Upward Bound, which helped contribute to the retention and success of high school students entering academia. “It facilitated ideas and advocacy and energy that led to programs and initiatives that make it possible for first generation students to succeed,” Ruiz said.

The history of the day was handled lightly at the event, mixed in with the music, games, donuts, and coffee. It was a time for students to connect and celebrate. “After one semester, we’ve all accomplished a lot,” said Ivan Lopez ’26.

In Quach’s estimation, the importance of a specific community for FGLI students isn’t just about celebrating the victories, although that’s crucial. It’s equally as important to share the challenges and the failures. “It’s about growing together as a whole,” Quach said.

Mariema Tall ’26 has experienced some of the class issues that can lay under the surface of life on campus. “Events like this are important places to celebrate our activities that may be overlooked by the Wesleyan community,” Tall said. “It’s a way to feel good about ourselves and to show that we belong.”

To that end, the event was a success. A large “Proud to be FGLI” banner laid across a table at the center of the room. People covered it with affirmations and inspirational quotes before it goes on display at Olin Library. One particular phrase leapt off the banner, a piece of encouragement for everyone who wasn’t sure about their possibility of succeeding at Wesleyan: “If not me, then who?”