Resource Center

c/o Adam Cyzner, Contributing Photographer

First Things First (FTF), an orientation program organized by the Resource Center and the Office of Equity & Inclusion for first-generation, low-income (FGLI) students, ran from Tuesday, July 6 to Friday, July 30. Director of the Resource Center Demetrius Colvin, Dean for Academic Equity, Inclusion, and Success April Ruiz, and FTF Intern Elizabeth Ouanemalay ’23 organized this year’s program. Around 50 first-years participated in the program, which was open to both synchronous and asynchronous participants. 

The FTF program aims to help FGLI students adjust to campus life by introducing them to University services, guiding them through academics and the transition into college, and creating support systems through cohort building. FTF also includes a number of personal conversations about identity at the University, a predominantly white and wealthy institution. While most conversations were recorded for future viewing, more intimate dialogues were not recorded in an attempt to promote a more open, safe space. 

To Ouanemalay, conversations about identity and the program at large help paint an overall picture of life at the University.

“It’s not really meant to be this super comprehensive guide because I think there’s a lot of excitement when you’re going into your first year,” Ouanemalay said. “You’re not really going to remember all the small details. One of the missions of FTF was to provide this general overview and the sense more than anything [that] when a time comes around, [students will] know that there’s a resource for them and they might not remember what it is, but they’ll know, ‘oh, there’s probably a resource out there.’”

FTF participant Aisha Odetunde ’25 highlighted the importance of the program’s safe dialogues and mentioned that the FTF program promotes general wellbeing among FGLI students.

“[FTF is] a space with different resources to help not only our academic life, but also mental health, our physical health, our self care, and other resources that we can go to if we need help balancing out our lives in a way,” Odetunde said. “It’s a space where you can feel like yourself, feel connected with people [in a way] that you couldn’t do in the beginning. It’s a space where I can feel vulnerable and I won’t be attacked by it.”

In previous years, FTF was open only to students who met strict criteria set by the University. This year, however, the program expanded to include all FGLI students.

“Before this year it was invitation only, but we also found that there were some people who didn’t meet the original criteria given to us by admissions; there’s always people’s individual circumstance,” Colvin said. “Let’s say someone’s mother went to nursing school, technically that student is not first generation, but they are low-income, and just because there is some educational attainment doesn’t mean that the program won’t be useful for them.”

Because the program was virtual and open to more students, more first years were able to participate, including international FGLI students. 

“In the past, [FTF] would have coincided with ISO, so that was also something that was nice,” Ouanemalay said. “I think by having it online, we really did get a demographic that we have not been able to get in the past.”

Going forward, Colvin and Ruiz are implementing a new year-long program series entitled FTF Next Steps for FGLI students. The aim is to provide FGLI students with extra support, connections, and tools. The program seeks to foster a greater sense of community through a series of events, each addressing a specific topic. The FTF Next Steps programs for Fall 2021 will take place throughout the semester and will include topics such as Academic Life at Wes, Navigating Classism, FGLI and Family, Building Your Academic Path, and Navigating the End of Term. More information pertaining to FTF Next Steps and its events can be found on the Resource Center’s Facebook account.

“Perhaps you’re thinking about some of the themes we talked about in the summer [during FTF orientation] in a different sort of way ’cause they’re landing in a more real manner, and perhaps you have more specific concerns or more specific questions,” Ruiz said. “Or perhaps, now that you’re living it, you understand some dimensions of this that you didn’t understand when we first talked to you in July. So let’s revisit these topics in a different way now and dig in a little deeper [through FTF Next Steps].”

According to Odetunde, one of the strengths of this year’s program was that it brought in a number of different voices, each representing various student organizations.

“Different weeks they added new people for different webinars,” Odetunde said. “The last week they brought in people from the financial aid office and they also brought in people from the SHAPE offices, from Title IX, or [people] in different programs or different clubs. One of them was [about] people of color in athletics, then like my [OL] was on the WSA. Different people brought in different things and then explained more about it if anyone was interested.”

Last year, FTF ran for six weeks. This year’s shorter, four-week program had a specific theme for each week: A Welcome to the University, Academics, Social Life, and Looking Forward.

The planning process began early in the Spring 2021 semester when Ruiz was hired as the University’s Dean for Academic Equity, Inclusion, and Success. Ruiz, who facilitated similar programs at different institutions, worked closely with Colvin and Ouanemalay. While Colvin worked primarily with the FTF OLs and promoted community building as well as social-emotional wellbeing content, Ruiz worked on academic-adjacent programming, assessment projects, and other logistics and communications. Ouanemalay and other campus colleagues provided student input. In addition, Ouanemalay participated in the OL hiring process, acted as a point person for questions and programming, and filled in for different roles.

Colvin, Ruiz, and Ouanemalay prioritized feedback from previous years in creating this year’s program. For instance, after students from last year’s FTF program gave feedback that six weeks was too long, they condensed the program to make it easier for participants to be involved. Moreover, FTF was planned to be virtual regardless of COVID-19 to circumvent any potential issues to scheduling or health. Ouanemalay said she thinks that the asynchronous nature of the event helped avoid problems with accessibility.

“We could also accommodate the people who didn’t really have internet connection to make it, so they could watch the material at their own time and get a feel for the program without feeling pressured to always have perfect or like good internet bandwidth,” Ouanemalay said.

Ruiz and Colvin are currently in the process of reflecting on this year’s FTF program to make revisions for future years.

“We’re entering that time where now a lot of deep reflection and deep reading of the feedback is going to happen,” Ruiz said. “We have a lot of notes that we were taking over time. Demetrius, Elizabeth, and I had just met constantly. So we were taking those notes in real time when we could revisit them with fresh eyes, so we’ll be starting to engage in all that planning for next summer.”

Ouanemalay spoke to the ongoing value of FTF, even now that formal programming has ended.

“After working with FTF, I just appreciate everybody,” Ouanemalay said. “I’ve worked it from the students, the professors, faculty, and staff, because I think it can be very overwhelming to be in this type of environment…where there’s such privilege and elitism, and I feel like you’re still trying to find your sense of self. I’ve come to realize at Wesleyan, sometimes we need to have a certain type of language or understanding, and these things aren’t really told to you from the get go. I think that’s why having a community where people understand where you’re coming from and, to a certain extent, are able to help you articulate things smoother is important.”

Oliver Cope can be reached at

Correction: The original version of the article stated that around 50 students, including 10 Orientation Leaders (OLs) and approximately 40 incoming first-year students participated in the program. In actuality, there were 50 students in addition to OLs. This version has been updated to reflect this change. 

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