The University hosted a First Generation Panel and Discussion in Allbritton on Thursday, March 31. Sponsored by both the Office of Residential Life and Student Academic Resources, the event was intended for the University to reach out to first-generation students.
“This event is an opportunity to connect with other members of the first-generation community and discuss academic success at Wesleyan,” the brochure advertising the event reads. “Panelists will discuss the strengths of being first generation, their experience in college, and the ways they navigated obstacles that arose along the way. Resources on campus will also be shared.”
Kevin Winnie ’16, who is part of the Peer Advisor Program and Student Academic Resources under Associate Dean of Student Academic Resources Laura Patey, organized the event with the help of Area Coordinator of Residential Life Emily Pagano and the rest of ResLife.
“I didn’t think we were doing enough workshops for particular student groups, including the first-generation group,” Winnie said. “I wanted to reach out to this community and provide them with the resources they need to be academically successful.”
After realizing that not enough was being done on campus for first-generation students, Winnie consulted Patey who advised him to reach out to Pagano. From there, the two began planning the panel and other resources that could aid first-generation students.
“The administration has been really trying to figure out proper resources for first-generation students,” Winnie said. “[They] have been reaching out to first-generation students themselves for consulting. They came out with this new brochure that shows that there are a couple resources on campus that are particularly important for first-generation students, some of those being the Writing Workshop, Career Center, and the Peer Advisor Program.”
Winnie and Pagano wanted to ensure that there would also be first-generation students at the panel to add a more personal and relatable touch.
“We also wanted to have some first-generation students talk about their experience navigating academic difficulties at Wesleyan,” Winnie said. “We opened it up to any first-generation student to come, but in particular we had Caroline Liu [’18] talk about her experiences as a first-generation student, as well as Dean Michael Whaley, who was a first-generation student back in the day.”
Despite not being a first-generation student himself, Winnie took the initiative to look into this issue.
“I felt that I wasn’t seeing much of our program as academic peer advisors reaching out to first-generation student groups, so I felt like this was a part of campus that doesn’t necessarily get as much attention as it should,” Winnie said. “I think we’re starting to give more attention to our first-generation students, and I hope this is a good step for our program to reach out to this particular student group.”
According to Winnie, the event went well, with about an equal number of students and administrators showing up for the panel.
“That’s good because it shows that students are interested in this, trying to get academic advice and trying to get the resources to be successful,” Winnie said. “It also shows that our administrators are taking a roll in this important area as well. I think there was some good discussion surrounding first generation students and possible resources on campus.”
Associate Director of Career Development and Campus Outreach Persephone Hall, who attended the event, saw the panel as an opportunity for students who identify as first-generation to connect with other students and administrators in a safe and caring environment.
“I hope this panel was the start of many such conversations in the future that provides students with an open environment in which to learn and share,” Hall wrote in an email to The Argus. “I encourage students to find at least one person in whom they can trust that can mentor them in college. I also saw the conversation as one that could inform us as administrators of areas in which we can make adjustments to encourage open communication.”
For Winnie, helping first-generation students get the aid they need in order to successfully navigate the University comes down to teaching first-generation students when they need to ask for help.
“First-generation students don’t always know when to ask for help, and that’s something that both students and, in particular, administrators, need to work towards making a community that is not unwilling to ask for help,” Winnie said. “Some students realize their junior year that they’ve been writing essays incorrectly for two years, and that could have been solved freshman year if they had asked for help. This isn’t the student’s fault, but the community’s fault, and what we’re doing to make a productive environment for all students, but particularly first-generation students who need the same resources.”
In the same way as Winnie, Hall also hopes that this panel helped first-generation students verbalize their needs when necessary.
“All Wesleyan students are bright and accomplished,” Hall wrote. “Acceptance to attend this university speaks to the magnificence each student brings and learning to navigate the Wesleyan system is like asking for directions in a new city. I want all students to understand all the highways/byways, streets and alleys of Wesleyan and feel safe exploring them in order for them to have a fulfilling experience at Wesleyan.”