November 19, 2015

Campaign Highlights First Generation Students

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“In the face of adversity as a first generation student, I have come out on top,” reads one blurb highlighted in a Cornell First in Class’ photo campaign, which launched last Friday.

The new organization — sponsored by Cornell’s Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives — aims to serve the unique needs of first generation students, or students whose parents never attended an institution of higher education.

The program consists of hired first generation student mobilizers responsible for leading the initiative and a general body of first generation students intended to both help and benefit from Cornell First in Class, according to Frank Chan ’18, technology head of the organization.

“[The program] is trying to build a community of first generation students that really emphasizes support for one another,” Chan said.

Cornell First in Class will create this support through programs such as a textbook lending library, a for-credit course geared towards teaching first generation students about Cornell resources and a photo campaign which launched last Friday, according to Eddy Medina ’17, the outreach head.

“College students raised by parents with college educations have additional opportunities, and I think first generation students can have those opportunities if they’re linked together, if they said, ‘Listen, we’re a group of students that have a common thread and we can use that thread to help rather than hinder our academic progress,’” said Henry Graney ’19, a Cornell First in Class member.

Although this sort of program that provides wide-scale support to first generation students is the first of its kind at Cornell, according to Medina, other universities have offered this type of programming in the last few years. Medina credited Brown University for spearheading the campaign in the Ivy League, pointing to Brown’s organization of an all-Ivy League first generation students conference called IvyG last winter.

Looking ahead, Medina said his goal for Cornell First in Class is to extend beyond its own programming on campus and ultimately reach a level of solidarity with first generation student programs across the Ivy League through collaborative forums like IvyG. He said he envisions this solidarity to generally involve the coordinated organization of first generation student programs that work similarly and take place at the same time on every Ivy League campus.

An outcome of Cornell First in Class Medina said he would like to see is for first generation students to understand “that being a first generation student is nothing more than a title to their circumstance … so [first generation students] can go on with their day, go on with their lives and see they can compete and succeed equally with their peers.”

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