This coming February, the First Generation Student Union at Cornell will host the annual 1vyG Conference, with the theme of “It Starts with Us,” to show support for the large first-gen population on campus.
First-generation students, who are the first ones in their family to attend college, make up a significant part of the Cornell community. From 11.3 percent in the Class of 2020 to 13.7 percent in the Class of 2022, the number marginally increases every year.
The conference aims to focus on the diversity of the first-generation community, address challenges facing these trailblazers, as well as making sure to empower students through workshops, panels and their keynote speaker, according to Natalia Hernandez ’21 and Elia Morelos ’21, co-chairs of the conference.
Morelos, who also heads the FGSU and Haven, has bid for the conference since the spring semester of her freshman year.
“I think one of my goals this year… has been promoting intersectionality in both orgs, and it’s something I want to bring with the 1vyG conference too,” Morelos said.
One of the facets of intersectionality Morelos and Hernandez said they would like to focus on is the overlap of different socioeconomic statuses among different first generation students, who foster a myriad of identities.
“First generation comes in so many different forms that … all your other identities can add … on to the burdens of not understanding how to navigate this institution,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez, the co-president of Cornell Lending Library and the executive vice president of ALANA Intercultural Board, while a strong proponent of emphasizing the economic diversity of first generation students, also want to highlight those who come from low income and disadvantaged and how they can contribute to their neighborhoods back home even when they’re not physically there.
“The cycle of poverty doesn’t mean you have to leave,” Hernandez said. “ We want to emphasize that we want you to go back to your community and really reshape it or become a part of it … Just because you’re here for four years doesn’t mean it still isn’t your home.”
The two co-chairs also hope to address at the conference the range of options that first generation students have for them post-graduation. According to Morelos, students don’t necessarily have to go into the fields like finance that are traditionally defined to help them break out of the cycle of poverty,” but should be able to explore more options such as STEM and non-profit work.
Attesting to the difficulty of Cornell and the weight of being a first-generation student, Hernandez and Morelos emphasized the importance of finding community, accepting failure, overcoming imposter syndrome repeatedly through different life circumstances, and not being afraid to utilize resources on campus.
“As corny as it sounds, you got in for a reason, you didn’t just get in because of XYZ thing, no matter how many people tell you that you only got in … because of this identity of yours. You got in because of merit and because you deserve to be here,” Hernandez said.
During her first year at Cornell, Hernandez said that she “didn’t get a sense of the first generation community on campus,” which is why hosting the conference is like “a testment” to how much the group has grown.
With the assistance of their planning committee, Morelos and Hernandez hope to give students “tangible things as well as learned experiences or shared experiences” to utilize after the conference.
“This is institution is for you as much as it is for anybody else even if the space wasn’t originally meant for you,” Hernandez said.