A summit for first-generation college students is introduced by Equity and Justice Council

First-generation college students convened in Fleck Hall for a day of bonding and learning about on-campus resources during a summit Feb. 10.

Hosted by the Equity and Justice Council (EJC), the event drew in students ranging from freshmen to seniors who share the experience of being the first in their families to pursue higher education.

Like many students at St. Edward’s, junior Jose Garibay knew he wanted to continue his education at a college that offered small class sizes.

“Since I come from a low socio-economic background, I had always been told, ‘You’re gonna go to college.’ I was just never sure exactly what the path to that was,” Garibay said.  

Tasked with hosting a series of retreats and conferences to promote diversity, EJC desired to focus on first generation students shortly after President Trump announced his plans to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in September.

“With all the news that shook the campus with DACA last semester, a lot of the things that have been happening in politics, we realized that a lot of first generation students feel overlooked, especially in the college setting because there is no identifier for first generation students,” Kia Baeza, special events coordinator for EJC, said.  

 After speaking with friends who are first generation students, Baeza said many “felt a constant pressure on them to do well.” Further explaining the challenge of being a first generation student, Baeza said they often lack a support system “because nobody that they knew back home had been through it before. So how do you coach someone on something you’ve never been through?”

Garibay said sometimes communication with other students can be difficult as well. “Having to go to school and work and take care of all of these things…not everybody relates to that.”

To connect students with people who can provide guidance on college life, EJC invited the Global Engagement Office, as well as the Office of Career and Professional Development to be part of the summit.

The summit also consisted of activities geared towards self-care.

“A lot of them feel such a pressure every single day that if they don’t succeed, they’ve let their entire family down,” Baeza said. “And that’s a lot for a student to hold onto, especially because college is already stressful enough.”

Though this is the first time an event of this sort has been hosted by the EJC, Baeza said she would like the summit to be held annually in the fall so students can be connected to resources from the start of the academic year.  

Melina Bravo, a special events coordinator for EJC said she hopes students were able to feel resourceful for other first generation students following the summit. “Being a first generation student isn’t an ethnicity, it isn’t a class, it isn’t a race, it’s something that connects us all together through our experiences, or rather, lack of,” Bravo said.

The summit followed a structured schedule, but Baeza’s favorite moment happened in passing while the group shared friendly side chatter during lunch. “Building a community with other people that are first generation warmed my heart because it means that they have another person’s shoulder to lean on who understands what they’re going through on a daily basis,” Baeza said.

The EJC hopes to attract this population of students again by featuring a first generation speaker at the Change Institute March 23.

“I wasn’t sure exactly what I’d get out of it,” Garibay said. “It was a good experience for me learning the different resources that there are on campus, but also knowing that you’re not alone through this path.”