About 12 percent of Wellesley College students are first-generation. In 2013, Donald Leach, Associate Director of Residential Life, Karen Shih, Assistant Director of Intercultural Education at Wellesley, and former Class Dean Joy Playter spearheaded efforts to launch the Wellesley College First Generation Network (FGN) to foster a strong first-generation community on campus and increase the awareness and quality of services for the first-generation student.
That same year, Class Action, a national nonprofit that works to address issues of class and classism, initiated their first annual first-generation summit. Wellesley students had such a positive experience attending the summits in 2013 and 2014 that they thought it would be a good idea to host. “We wanted more of our students to have such an experience, and we wanted to build connections with other colleges and universities,” explained Leach.
On March 7, Wellesley hosted Class Action's third annual First Generation College Student Summit. The 2015 gathering convened 175 attendees from 32 colleges and four organizations from throughout the Northeast, with the aim of providing a forum for first-generation college students to share experiences and discuss challenges facing their communities.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, who was herself a first generation college student, spoke to attendees in a videotaped address and said this about the summit, prior. “I was the first person in my family to graduate from college, and it opened a million doors for me. That’s why I think the First Gen College Student Summit is a great idea. It’s a chance for students from across Massachusetts and around the Northeast to come together, share their experiences, and help each another succeed.”
Wellesley students Elizabeth Cho ’16 and Isabel Staccuneddu ‘17 are the FGN student coordinators. After the summit, each reflected on her experience.
“It was empowering being surrounded by resilient, motivated first gen students,” Staccuneddu said. “As someone with reservations about higher education, especially small private colleges like Wellesley, this summit was validating in that it affirmed that first genners do belong at Wellesley. I learned a lot of things from other first gen programs during the breakout sessions that I hope to bring back to the Wellesley First Gen Network.”
Cho said, “Not only did we affirm each other's experiences and identities, but we were able to build grassroots solutions on how to improve support systems for first generation students. It was a remarkable event to be a part of, and a movement that I hope will only grow stronger.”
-Nicole Tai ‘15 contributed to this story.