On Thursday, November 9 from 11am-1pm, Saint Xavier University hosted the first First Generation Event, called We are First. The event was planned by Professors Kathleen McInerney and Julie Reinhart, along with the Associate Director of Student Activities, Alexa Zaharris, and the Quad Resident Director and Coordinator of Community Inclusion, Jaraed Thomas.
“Basically,” Thomas said, “Alexa [Zaharris] and I were approached by Kathleen McInerney and Julie Reinhart about creating some kind of First Gen programming.”
First Generation students are students whose parents did not graduate from a college or university. According to The First Generation Foundation’s website, “The National Center for Education Statistics indicates that 30 percent of all entering freshmen are first-generation college students.”
“The program that we hosted on the ninth is supposed to be the first in a series,” Thomas explained, “We’re not necessarily sure where this will go, but based on our population here at Saint Xavier, a lot of students are First Generation students, come from low-income backgrounds, and sometimes those are one in the same.
“We’re just trying to let you [First Generation students] know that there are people on campus that are very similar to you.”
With First Generation faculty and staff supporting First Generation students on campus, Thomas says it shines a light on the identity of being a First Generation student, an identity that many people don’t think about.
“Seeing First Generation faculty and staff come together to say ‘Hey students, you’re not alone. It’s possible to get a degree, and be First Gen. We know that there will be barriers and things that limit your success, but if you want to reach out, we’re here for you,’” Thomas said.
At the event, Saint Xavier’s Interim Provost, Suzanne Lee, Ph.D, spoke as well. Lee herself is a First Generation graduate.
“How important is that?” Thomas said, “To be a student, to see someone who has this massive amount of education, sitting in this high position, and to be able to say, ‘Wow. They were in a very similar space as me.’”
“Representation is very important,” Thomas continued, “so to be able to see faculty members have Ph.Ds, or to have Alexa [Zaharris] with her Masters, or me working on mine, is important. Seeing that those things are possible, and knowing that just because you’re a First Gen college student doesn’t mean you can’t be successful.”
Over 40 First Generation students were present at the We are First event. Students were able to learn more information on what it means to be a First Generation student, hear stories from faculty and staff members who were also First Generation students, and T-Shirts were raffled off.
“I just hope this event continues to be renewed and continues to be built,” Thomas said, “I want us to make sure that we are being intentional. It’s great to throw those words around, words like diversity, multicultural, multiethnic, and all that, but being intentional about this shared experience, this collective experience, about being First Gen.
“Maybe we jump on with Career Services and expand it there,” Thomas continued. “Maybe do something like a First Gen alumni event; just making sure that it is open to the process and collaboration of other people in the community.”