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SMC hosts annual first-generation students week

| Monday, November 13, 2023

Natalie Smith | The Observer
Saint Mary’s students celebrated the College’s annual first-generation week.

Last week, Saint Mary’s hosted its annual first-generation week to support and bring together first-generation students — students whose parents did not graduate from a four-year college or university. The week was organized by Christin Kloski, director of the Office for Student Equity, and students in First Gen Family, a student club. 

The events began on Monday, with students tabling and giving out financial education resources, as well as writing letters of encouragement to first-gen students. On Tuesday, an event was held in the Spark Lab at Saint Mary’s where students could make t-shirts and tote bags with first-generation decals on them.

First Gen Fam Club president Leann Saul, a junior, emphasized the importance of the first-gen celebration dinner held on Wednesday night.

Wednesday was our big event, it’s our annual first-gen celebration dinner,” Saul said. “It’s where all our first-generation students, faculty and staff are invited to have dinner and we have a keynote speaker, who was a first-generation professor.”

On Friday, a painting event was held.

Junior Vanessa Celis noted the difficulties first-generation college students face.

“I think that being first-generation does pose a lot of difficulties in terms of getting ready for college and what to do and the resources that you have,” Celis said. “Some people have the privilege of asking their parents how to do certain things or what classes to take or ‘should I take this major or not?’”

Despite this, Celis said her experience has taught her self-reliance.

“At the same time, it’s taught me a lot about myself and I’ve grown as a person because I’ve had to figure that out on my own,” she said.

Although initiatives like the Kessler Scholar Program and Belles Connect help students come together before starting college, some Saint Mary’s students said they still want to see more improvement when it comes to first-generation students’ experiences.

“I think freshman year is the hardest for first-generation students because you don’t have any experience with college,” Saul said. “Most people would be able to turn to their parents and ask them for advice. We can’t really do that.” 

Celis said the dinner on Wednesday, along with the other events, serve to give a greater voice to the community and to offer a way for students and staff to come together and learn from each other. 

“I think it’s just recognition,” Celis said. “It feels nice to know that people acknowledge the hardships of being first-generation and you feel like you have people around you that know what it’s like. Maybe they’re seniors and you’re like ‘oh my god, they’re about to graduate.’ I’m a junior, but I’m like ‘they’re doing it so I can do it too.’”

Saul noted students might not know that other people in classes or clubs are going through the same issues as them, so giving them more connections is crucial.

“It’s letting the other students who are first-gen know that they have a community here and people that care about them and want to support them and provide programming for them,” Saul said. “It’s really about connecting and then also supporting and uplifting them.”

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