Sunnie Yi Ning '18 Assistant News Editor
Smith’s First-Generation Student Alliance (F1GS) recently held its Visibility Week. Events all throughout last week, a series of events that recognized and celebrated first-generation students and their identities.
The activities spanned throughout the week including tabling on Monday, a movie on Tuesday, a faculty panel on Wednesday, visibility day on Thursday and an ice cream social on Friday. The events provided spaces for first-generation students to explore their identity, hear advice from faculty members who were first-generation college students themselves and for other students to learn more about what struggles first-generation students often face.
In the Campus Center on Monday, many students came to the F1GS table and expressed what the first-generation identity meant to them through hashtags and photos on social media. Many expressed their pride as a first-generation student through the hashtags “#NoShame” and “#ProudToBeFirstGen.” Many students also stressed the importance of family. “I’m here not only for myself but for my family,” read one response. “Thanks, Mom! I couldn’t be here without your support,” said another.
At the First-Generation in STEM Faculty Panel on Wednesday, Professor Lisa Mangiamele from the biology department and Professor Denise McKahn from the engineering department shared their experiences from their days as first-generation undergraduates, gave advice to first-generation students and answered audience questions.
Both professors saw the separation from family as a uniquely challenging experience faced by first-generation students. They admitted that it was tough for families to make sense of what their students went on to do and to accept the new way of thinking that college education equipped them with. Parents might underestimate their children’s knowledge and feign expertise anyway.
“It took me a while to find that cute or supportive,” said McKahn. Mangiamele agreed, “It puts a distance between me and my father about what we can and cannot talk about.”
The panel also discussed the challenges first-generation students face with academic success as they don’t have access to the resources that many other students possess. Mangiamele shared how she didn’t have the courage to ask questions when she had them. Both professors credited mentors as crucial supports in achieving success in their careers.
The Visibility Week was important for first-generation students to increase their presence on campus and celebrate their identity. Many first-generation students feel that there is a lack of discourse surrounding these issues.
“I feel like my identity as a first-generation student was not as prevalent throughout my early years at Smith,” said Becky Lai ’16. For first-generation students, going to college is simply different from what others’ experience.
“For me, being a first-generation college student means being the last generation to feel like they don’t belong on a college campus or feel like their leadership does not matter,” said Stephanie Pinedo ’18.
In this environment, F1GS Visibility Week allows students to have a discussion about their identity and know that they are valued by the institution. “I think by celebrating and recognizing first-generation students in this way, we are also raising awareness of who we are and it gives us a chance to share our experiences with others,” said Lai and Gisele Pineda ’16.