Hundreds of UC San Diego students, staff, faculty, and community members rallied in the Student Services Multipurpose Room on Thursday, November 8 for an evening that honored the stories of first-generation college students from all over the nation.
The 2018 National First-Gen Celebration Day was organized by Triton Firsts, a comprehensive initiative founded in Spring 2017 under UC San Diego Student Retention and Success. The initiative seeks to celebrate the resilience of first-generation college students and build a support system to help them achieve their academic, professional, and personal goals. Inspired by #FirstGen, a UC-wide campaign that present first-generation students’ stories of setbacks and success, Triton Firsts cultivates community-building through quarterly inspirational talks, Welcome Week socials, and directories that connect students with faculty mentors who share their backgrounds.
The celebration featured a “First-Gen Chat” with three individuals who were once first-generation college students. Gisela Acevedo, an associate attorney at Contreras Law Firm, is a UCSD alumna. Dr. Charles Lu, Director of the Office of Academic Support and Instructional Services (OASIS), represented UCSD staff. Dr. Gentry Patrick, a Neurobiology Professor, spoke on behalf of UCSD faculty.
To Acevedo, Lu, and Patrick, being first-generation college students meant volunteering to put themselves in an “unknown territory” and become a role model to their family members and relatives. While all three speakers recognized that the experience itself could be nerve-wrecking and isolating, they stated that hardships and struggles could unveil the most perseverance and growth.
“I have learnt to be independent and strong-minded when it comes to making my own decisions,” Acevedo said. “When you are the first person to pursue something as time-consuming and expensive as higher education, everyone in your family has doubts in you. So you always need to believe in yourself and seek support from the right people.”
As of Fall 2017, 11,109 undergraduate students at UCSD identify as a first-generation college student. This number accounts for 39 percent of the total undergraduate population on campus. In 2015 and 2016, the numbers were 37 percent and 38 percent respectively, signifying an increase in the number of first-generation college students over the years. UCSD currently has the third-largest number and the sixth-largest percentage of first-generation undergraduates in the University of California system.
Lindsay Romasanta, Director of UCSD Student Success Programs, believes that the unusual breadth of experiences that first-generation students possess is an invaluable asset to the UCSD community.
“Being a first-generation college student usually goes along with many other identities, such as being ‘first-generation immigrant,’ being ‘low-income,’ or being an ‘underrepresented minority,’” Romasanta shared. “While first-generation students face complex challenges at different intersectionalities of their identity, I also think that we should focus less on what these students lack, and more on the unique strengths and perspectives that they bring to their institution.”
When asked about ways in which first-generation students could give back to their community, Romasanta referred to student leadership opportunities at various campus departments. These included the Student Success Coaching Program, the OASIS Learning Community, the Triton Community Leadership Institute, the Chancellor’s Associate Scholars Program (CASP), and the Student Promoted Access Center for Education and Service (SPACES).
“Being first-gen, you have the pressure to present yourself as brave and reliable for others, but don’t worry if you have not had everything figured out yet,” Dr. Lu remarked at the evening talk. “No matter where you are in life, you will still be going through the same process of learning and discovery. I advise you to consider it a privilege that you gain for having ventured outside your comfort zone.”
Thi Nguyen is a Staff Writer for The Triton.