By Saul Lopez, graduate assistant in the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion
How do you succeed in a place that is foreign to you? As a college student, how do you relate to the people around you when you’re the only one in your family to ever set foot on a college campus? These questions are some of the few that we, as first-generation students, ask ourselves when we go to class and navigate college systems.
We are entering unknown territory without guideposts to steer us in the right direction, so every day we have to gather up the courage to step outside our comfort zone and take a leap of faith.
A leap of faith like the one Ana Luci Gonzales, freshman in the Diederich College of Communication, says she took when she decided to attend Marquette.With her decision, she became part of the more than 20 percent of Marquette undergraduate students who are the first in their family to attend college.
Since the inception of the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) 50 years ago, Marquette has worked to better support first-gen students. And as the first-gen population on our campus grows, more intentional steps have been taken to create pathways for us and to celebrate our successes.
For example, the Office of Engagement and Inclusion helps run student-oriented initiatives such as RISE (Ready to Inspire Success and Excellence), a pre-orientation program that allows multicultural and underrepresented students to connect with fellow students, faculty and staff of color before they start classes in the fall.
“Events such as RISE help create pathways to success for first-generation students and better equip them with the resources and tools necessary to thrive at Marquette,” said Clara Dwyer, assistant director for the Office of Engagement and Inclusion.
Earlier this month, Marquette joined campuses across the country in celebrating National First-Generation Student Day, hosting a series of events in honor of students, faculty and staff who identify as first-generation college students. One of these events, “Pizza with the Provost,” invited the Marquette community for lunch and some first-generation themed trivia.
In a sea of scattered pizzas, Provost Ah Yun talked about his own experience as a first-generation student and stressed the importance of finding a community within Marquette. Along with him, about a dozen faculty and staff shared their support and solidarity with the first-gen community.
After the event, I had the opportunity to talk with students about their experience as first-generation students. One of the students I spoke with was Leon Mason, co-chair of “I’M F1RST.” This student organization focuses on providing a welcoming campus environment to first-gen students. They are currently working to create a literary magazine, which will provide a medium where students can express their own experience via art.
Projects like this are so important simply because being a first-gen student is hard. It’s not easy to be in a constant level of discomfort, silently observing what the “norm” is for someone on a college campus.
Students like Giselle Vera, a freshman in the College of Business Administration, told me, “I have a lot of pressure on my shoulders from my family, (especially) when it comes to expectations — to understand what’s going on,[embrace] it and see what ways it can help me grow.”
And even though events like Pizza with the Provost won’t solve the issue immediately, it does allow students to see that there is an effort being made. It’s helping students like Ana Luci, Leon, and Giselle — and myself — to see that, even though the road ahead is new and confusing, there are people rooting for us. Because even though we are “first,” we most certainly won’t be the last.
Celebrating diversity and inclusion at Marquette University