Student group kicks off weeklong event celebrating first-generation students

Media Credit: Olivia Anderson | Photo Editor

Junior Jocelynne Simbana, the director of engagement for First Gen United, said being a first-generation student is sometimes like “walking blindly into a room” because students don’t know how to navigate college because they don’t have family members to give them advice.

Students are hosting the first-ever weeklong celebration of first-generation students starting Monday.

Members of First Gen United GW, a group that advocates for and supports first-generation students, organized the inaugural first-generation week which will take place through Friday. Students said events held throughout the week, which include a bake sale and ice cream social, will help students who are not first-generation students better understand their experiences and build community among first-generation students.

“Not everyone knows what a first-generation student is, not everyone knows what it means to be first gen,” junior Sara Prifti, the president of First Gen United, said. “We want to take this opportunity to highlight, ‘OK, this is what it means, this is who we are, and we’re just here to share and celebrate.’”

The group will run five events this year, starting with a bake sale Monday, where proceeds will fund the organization’s future programming and events.

Students will host a “post about it” session Tuesday in Kogan Plaza, allowing students to write about what it means to be a first-generation student on a Post-it note and tack it onto a poster. Eventually, the Post-it notes will form the number “1,” to represent the first student in a family to attend college.

Students said the group will also hold an ice cream social for first-generation students Wednesday in the Thurston Hall lounge. Officials housed a group of first-generation students on the eighth floor of Thurston Hall for the first time this year.

On Thursday – national first-generation day – the group will also host a party with food and games in the Marvin Center, where staff and faculty will also be in attendance. The week will wrap up Friday with a “navy blue out,” where students can wear navy blue in support of first-generation students, and members of First Gen United will distribute fliers on the Marvin Center terrace describing the organization, student leaders said.

Prifti, the president of First Gen United, said the week is an extension of the First-Generation College Celebration, a national event held on Nov. 8, when university officials are encouraged to launch programs or host lunches for first-generation students.

Prifti said the group wants to commemorate what it means for students to be the first person in their family to go to college. About 14 percent of the undergraduate population at GW is made up of first-generation students, Prifti said, citing data from the Center for Student Engagement.

“We looked at that and said one day is certainly not enough to celebrate and share the first-gen narrative and highlight what it means to be a first gen on campus,” Prifti said.

Junior Jocelynne Simbana, the director of engagement for First Gen United, said that being a first-generation student is sometimes like “walking blindly into a room” because students don’t know how to navigate college or the “norms” of college life because they don’t have family members to give them advice.

First-generation week, which student leaders started planning last month, is the first iteration of an annual event that will be held on the week of national first-generation day, she said.

“Being a first-generation student is not something you can see physically, something your ethnicity might be able to show,” Simbana said. “It affects you deeply, but it’s something that nobody’s going to know, and we thought that was very important to bring awareness to that.”

Sophomore Arielle Jordan, the director of finance for First Gen United, said the organization has spent the fall “rebranding” its group to focus on ways student leaders can tout the large number of first-generation students on campus. Jordan said that while she is not a first-generation student, she is an ally for students in the organization.

Over the summer, the executive board of the group decided they wanted to extend the daylong national event into one week and have been planning the events for about a month, Jordan said.

“Our goal is to support and celebrate,” she said. “Since there’s already a day celebration, why not make it into a weeklong event? Why not add more celebration to the celebration that’s already there?”

Jordan said the executive board hopes to have a “large turnout” for all of the events and include students from the organization – which is made up of 125 general body members – and other members of the GW community.

First Gen United is promoting the events using its Facebook page and newsletters and emails from the CSE. The group will also hold a social media campaign throughout the week where students can post about their first-generation experience using #FirstGenForward or #GWFirst, she said.

“It’s important for the GW community to know that this is not just an organization based on being a first-generation college student,” Jordan said. “We do have other people in the organization.”

Lauren Peller and Sarah Roach contributed reporting.

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