Suffolk holds inaugural first-gen week


Courtesy of Beatriz Patino

Students eat pancakes at the First-Gen “I Flippin’ Think You’re Amazing” breakfast

In honor of the National First-Generation College Celebration day on Nov. 8, the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion (CSDI) at Suffolk University hosted a celebration of first-generation students this past week. For the first time since the inaugural celebration of Suffolk’s first-generation students two years ago, the university has expanded the once day-long festivity into a week-long commemoration.

With about 37% of the student population at Suffolk being first-generation students, CSDI representatives said they hope this event will “enable students and faculty alike to better understand and improve on the experience of first-gen students, from recruitment to commencement.”

Fifty-four years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson had just launched his “War on Poverty” by signing the Higher
Education Act of 1965, in which federal funds were to be used to provide opportunities for low income families.

Through this act, and future reauthorizations, the first-generation student label was born and implemented in order to represent students whose parents had not completed bachelor’s degree programs.

Eventually, the Higher Education Act became a part of federal regulations requirements for which a student were to
be eligible to participate in a federal program that was focused on three initiatives: Upward Bound, Talent Search and Student Support Service (TRIO).

Many years later in 2017, an advocacy organization for the Federal TRIO Program, known as the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE), had been working with the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA). Together, the groups worked to bring further attention to students who were the first in their family to attend college.

The COE and NASPA announced on Nov. 8 that year, that this day was to be further recognized as First-Generation College Celebration Day. Suffolk University has since then expanded on this original concept and turned it into its own to formally celebrate these students. With thanks to a supportive faculty and student body, CSDI was able to successfully host their first week-long first-generation celebration.

Led by CSDI Director Beatriz Patino, this year’s week-long celebration was filled with events thrown by the office and others, intended to cultivate an environment where first-generation students could be honored and

“I got to Suffolk a year ago and I recall sitting in a presentation from our Admissions Office and hearing the first-gen population was about 37%,” Patino said. “That number stuck in my head, so I began to ask questions. I realized we had various efforts going on around campus, but not necessarily centralized or publicized for all students.”

Patino, as a first-generation student herself, sought the aid of fellow first-generation student Abe Pena, head of the TRIO Program at Suffolk, and Carmen Veloria, an education department chair at Suffolk, in order to brainstorm a solution to her problem.

“[We] put our heads together and realized that we wanted our first-gen students to know we are here for them, they matter, we value their presence here and want to celebrate all of their successes,” said Patino.

The result of these efforts brought the recognition of these students by CSDI who wants to help bring awareness about this population to the university community, according to their event flier.

In order to ensure the success of the students they wish to acknowledge, CSDI says it also plans to, “Get first-generation students acquainted with the various offices that may provide useful resources for them,” during their
time at school.

In terms of how others can further that experience for first-generation students, Pena says that other students and faculty should, “Remove the stigma of being first-generation.”

“I think people have a negative view of first-gen students, but ultimately these students have resilience, persistence, and have persevered through many obstacles. They are not less than their peers; on the contrary, there is a lot they can do and have navigated that make them stronger contenders for education and future careers,” said Pena.

CSDI plans to further expand on the success it had with its first week- long festival. Both Pena and Patino have been contacted by many other departments throughout the university who hope to get involved in the celebration in the future.

Both Pena and Patino also intend to develop a program they say will parallel a preexisting grant that was given to Suffolk thanks in part to the TRIO program.

“As an institution, there is a push for creating more targeted services and resources for our students. As a center, we are working on piloting a program to help first-gen students who want to do research and go to graduate school,
as a parallel to our federal McNair program, and [we] are looking into hiring a position to support first-
gen students overall,” said Pena.

First-gen students acknowledge the efforts the university is putting forth. Ana Luiz, a first-generation freshman
law student at Suffolk, believes this celebration is a good demonstration of the type of community the school wants to cultivate.

“Suffolk celebrating first-generation students was a privilege and an acknowledgment to many,” she said. “I was very proud and it felt good to know that a university could support a community. I was happy to know [they] acknowledge their students.”

The first-year Ram also believes that part of this celebration should focus on the families of first-generation students.

“First-gen students not only do it for themselves but for their families in which we try to give pride [to] our families,” said Pena. “It is an accomplishment for all. It will be a celebration for everyone that participated in our journey as first-gen students.”

With about one-third of all undergraduates at Suffolk, and in the U.S., being first-generation students, the population is one that is truly diverse and deserving of acknowledgment. Each with their own rich and unique backgrounds leading them to be the first in their family to attend college, they now have the chance for opportunities that they may have never had before.

Now at Suffolk, with the aid of a serviceable staff and faculty, and encouraging student body, the population of first-generation students also has more support than ever before.

Above all, Patino said the best part of this celebration is meeting other first-generation students to hear and share their stories.

“I’m looking forward to more of that,” she said.