Over 20 Cornellians attended the second annual 1vyG Conference at Harvard this past weekend where they planned initiatives to help students who are the first in their family to attend college.
Attendees gathered to share their stories, networked and “recognized that being first in your family to go to college is an evidence of perseverance, resilience and strength,” according to Janilya Baizack ’17, a member of First in Class — a Cornell organization that provides support for first-generation college students and supports the IvyG Conference.
First generation students make up 14 percent of Cornell’s undergraduate community, according to Nicholas Karavolias ’18, a member of First in Class.
Nayara Luna ’19, also a member of First in Class, said the conference inspired many of the Cornell attendees to improve the experience of first generation students..
“I’ve never been in such a passionate and energetic setting, where hands were flying up and people were finishing each other’s sentences,” Luna said. “Being at this conference for the weekend … set off a yearning for change.”
Some of the proposed changes include creating a directory of first generation professors on campus and starting a first generation pre-orientation program, according to Christopher Talavera ’19, a member of First in Class.
“[A separate pre-orientation] will expose them to resources on campus that will help them succeed in college, along with creating relationships among each other,” Talavera said.
Karavolias added that First in Class will also advocate for a student representative on Student Assembly, promote mental health initiatives specific to first generation students and implement a lending library where students can borrow textbooks for a semester.
These planned programs are an effort to remedy the challenges first generation students face, such as financial insecurity and a lack of support from family, according to Karavolias.
Jaëlle Sanon ’19, a member of First in Class, said she struggled to navigate the application process because nobody in her family had attended college before.
“I had to apply to Cornell based on Google images and fill out the FAFSA and CSS profile on my own,” Sanon said. “When I got accepted to Cornell, my dad didn’t even know what Cornell was or where it was.”
Members agreed that feeling out of place is one of the greatest challenges first generation students face, Luna said.
“In a university where a large percentage of the student population is a part of an Ivy League legacy or simply just one of the many in their family to go college, it becomes hard for first gen students to relate,” Luna said.
Karavolias added that these students often have trouble paying additional fees associated with attending Cornell, such as the cost of student health insurance and dues for Greek life.
“Students frequently struggle with finances, resulting in food insecurity, excessive work hours or needing to withdraw from university in the most extreme cases,” Karavolias said.
Although many of the First in Class programs deal with the more concrete problems first generation students face, its ultimate goal is to make these students feel welcome at Cornell, according to Baizack.
“[I want to share] a message to all first gens at Cornell that they truly belong to be in this institution, that ‘any person, any study’ is not just an empty promise but a belief that regardless of where we come from, we have earned our spots to be here,” Baizack said.