First-Generation College Students, Faculty, and Staff Share Experiences at First in Family Lunch

by Sam Cleaves '14
First in Family Luncheon
The event attracted students from all class years, faculty from multiple disciplines, and staff members from a wide range of departments.

A diverse crowd students, faculty, and staff who identify as the first in their family to attend college gathered in Bond Hall on Wednesday afternoon for the "First in Family" Luncheon, which was sponsored by the Dean's Office and Career Services.

The event attracted students from all class years, faculty from multiple disciplines, and staff members from a wide range of departments, illustrating how prevalent first-generation individuals are on campus.

"We wanted to start a conversation about people's experiences at the College," says Assistant Dean Karen Henry '87, "so that students could hear that they are not the only ones who have faced some of these issues."

Swarthmore has previously hosted events for first-generation students - including a dinner at President Rebecca Chopp's house last year - but this was the first luncheon, which helped draw a larger crowd of faculty and staff.

Rebecca Senft '15, an honors neuroscience major from St. Johnsville, N.Y., regards these events as invaluable to recognizing and reaching out to other first-generation students. "It's important to meet other first-generation college students," she says, "because being a first-generation college student is invisible. It's good to know you're not alone and that they're other people you can talk to."

"It helps to meet the freshmen who may not know the different support networks available," adds Maria Mejia '15, a history major from Bronx, N.Y. "As older students, we can help them find guidance."

Cesar Cruz-Benitez '17 of Westbury, N.Y., says he has been inspired by his initial weeks on campus. "I am surrounded by people that want to get to know me," he says, "people that actually care about you the moment they meet you. Sometimes you do need faculty who have already been through it and can provide perspective." 

President Chopp, who has spoken about her experience as a first-generation college student, described herself as a student once in the same shoes as many of those in the audience. 

"It was not easy, but I fell in love with education," says Chopp, who explained that not only was she the first in her family to attend college, but her family was openly opposed to her attending. She also described the "disorienting" process that many first-generation students encounter when they first arrive at college.

Chopp also encouraged students to seek help from other first-generation college students like herself.

"All of us first-generation students are here to help you...and we applaud you for this milestone and many to come."