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First Gen Family club hosts celebration in honor of First-Generation College Celebration Day

| Friday, November 12, 2021

In honor of First-Generation College Celebration Day on Nov. 8, Saint Mary’s First Gen Family club hosted the First Gen Celebration in Rice Commons on Thursday night. The celebration consisted of a presentation by professor Stacy Davis and concluded with a dinner for students to socialize with other first-generation students, faculty and staff.

Crystal Ramirez | The Observer
Guests of the the First Gen celebration take pictures at the photo wall following the presentation and dinner.

In her presentation, Davis, who is a professor of religious studies and gender and women’s studies, spoke about her experience as a first-generation college student at the University of Tulsa.

“It is easy to look at first-generation college students, especially girls like myself who became paid professional geeks, as success stories,” Davis said. “I’m not here for that narrative. Instead, here’s the story of one broke student and her undergraduate career [filled with] new and exciting stress with illness and chronic sleep deprivation.”

Davis detailed her undergraduate experience as a Black, young and first-generation college student at a predominantly white institution in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“The first time I realized that college was going to be tricky was the summer before I began,” Davis said. “I had been accepted into the University of Tulsa honors program … I had signed up for the only first-semester history class taught by a history professor. I got a letter from the professor informing me that I had to read the ‘Iliad,’ … and the letter included an order form for the University of North Carolina for us, and the book was $45.”

Davis said the situation created a crisis in her household, as her family struggled to come up with the money to pay for the book.

“My father, after being unemployed for the first year-and-a-half after retiring from the Air Force, was finally working for the United States Postal Service,” Davis said. “But during his probationary period, he was making a large sum of $5 per hour.”

Davis said her family was able to “scrape up” enough money for the book and shipping and handling. She then detailed the difficulties she faced throughout the rest of her undergraduate experience that her non-first-generation peers might not have experienced.

“The first two years of my college career [I was] in the back row for every class; course participation grades were a nightmare,” she said. “Every summer I was a college babysitter, research assistant, student desk worker and the last four semesters, I worked as a tutor for an introductory intermediate Spanish and English composition.”

Davis repeated that her story is not a success story — it is the truth. 

I told you this was not a success story and I stand by that. First-generation students do this every day. The difference between 1996 — which is my graduating year — and 2021, however, is that now institutions know just how special you are,” Davis said. “I don’t wish you resilience because you don’t need it; you are already here. What I wish for you is a sense of belonging and community.”

After the presentation from Davis, First Gen Family president and College junior Alok Agwick spoke about the importance of the celebration Thursday night and what being a first-generation student means to her.

“It means a lot to me — it really does — and it has in a way shaped a lot of my experiences here at Saint Mary’s,” Agwick said. “I’m just really glad that we have this group to support each other and offices like the Office for Student Equity and [the Multicultural and International Student Services Office] … because I heavily depend on those offices in my time here.”

Agwick said she has felt supported by the College, offices and clubs since the beginning of her time at Saint Mary’s.

“I started on with the Belles Connect program, and in that program, there were first-gen students and lower socioeconomic status students, and we were together getting resources together and learning our way,” Agwick said. “So I’ve always kind of felt like I got a lot of support from the school from the beginning.”

Looking ahead to the rest of the year, Agwick said her goals for the club are to reach out to the whole Saint Mary’s community and continue to learn from first-generation students and allies.

“There’s just a really big gap … and I wish to really try to bridge that gap and try to create more programming — more consistent programming — and really just trying to make sure our first-gen students are taken care of as they go through their journey, Agwick said.

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