Week aims to celebrate contributions of first-generation, low-income students
Theresa Olohan | Tuesday, November 5, 2019
Notre Dame’s Office of Student Enrichment seeks to address inequalities on campus with its first annual First Generation and Low Income Student Week.
Assistant director of student enrichment Robyn Centilli said the week is intended to raise awareness of first-generation and low-income students’ circumstances, hopefully promoting campus dialogue about the unique challenges these students often face.
“This is our first year doing this, but our hope is that this is something we can build on and continue to celebrate,” Centilli said. “When people look at Notre Dame and think about what we’re doing for our first-generation and low-income students, they see that it’s a celebration around those students. We’re not just giving them money, but we are really setting them up for success. … We are constantly putting ourselves out there to help further these conversations.”
The week kicked off with a lunch and learn panel discussion Monday in the Notre Dame room of the LaFortune Student Center which focused on “Challenges in Access for First Generation and Low Income” students.
While bias and the desire for a “full house” may motivate admissions officers at other universities, panelist and Notre Dame director of TRiO programs Nijinsky Dix said that, at Notre Dame, all students earn their admission.
“You got here the right way,” Dix said. “You are in the same classroom as those people with money, those valedictorians from other schools, you are here. And you earned your way here. Be proud of it. That’s your badge.”
Sharing her own experience as a first-generation student and role model for her nieces and nephews, Dix encouraged students to be proud of their background and accomplishments.
“The focus is to change the trajectory for your family, doing it the right way. You can’t worry about what they’ve got going on.” she said. “Who doesn’t want to be number one? Go off, do that. We’re like mini superheroes.”
Echoing Dix’s words, first-generation student and senior Daniel Jimenez said it was important to take advantage of the opportunity to be a Notre Dame student without the weight of self-doubt.
“I see [being first-generation and from a low-income household] as an opportunity,” Jimenez said. “I see it as, ‘I can be the person to get my family out of this situation,’ … you see it as, ‘Oh wow, I am the person who can shift my family’s history.’ That’s really powerful.”
The Office of Student Enrichment has planned several events throughout the week, including “Postcards of Encouragement” on Tuesday, another lunch and learn session Wednesday and a talent show for first-generation and low-income students Friday. Director of student enrichment Consuela Howell said she hoped these events would shift public focus from what first-generation and low-income students lack to what they add to the campus community.
“First-generation and low-income students bring a certain resiliency, grit, problem solving ability, vision, the hope that they bring with them. We know that there are a lot of problems that first-generation, low-income students are facing that their peers aren’t facing … and a lot of those things are things that we as a department take it upon ourselves to solve,” Howell said. “We can’t solve everything, but we try to solve it — the lack. However, we think it is just as important, if not more important, to focus on what they add to this campus. This week is to highlight those things that they add.”
Centilli said she hopes these events work towards creating a more integrated and aware community for first-generation and low-income students and their more privileged peers.
“The events are open to everybody,” Centilli said. “I don’t want anybody to ever feel like, ‘I have privilege so can’t be part of that,’ because we should all be a part of the conversation. This should be something that we’re all talking about. … How are we utilizing our own voice and our own abilities to uplift others?”