Getting a college education can be challenging for anyone. Whether it is learning organic chemistry or writing tedious essays, learning about new things and entering unknown territories is difficult. These challenges can be amplified if a student doesn’t have a parent with experience at a higher education institution like Fordham University, to guide them through the transition.
Only 23.4% of students at Fordham are “first-generation students.” First-generation students have parents who did not receive a university degree. These students may hit roadblocks or have unique struggles in their university education because they lack the resources, advice or insight that students whose parents have been to college would have.
“Growing up, I never had the resources to understand what college was and what it means to be a college student because my parents never went,” said Jin Lin Chen, GSB ’22, an events coordinator for the First Generation Network. “Having trouble with the financial aid process and applying to college, in general, was hard. Studying for the SATs and ACTs, understanding where privilege is and where it isn’t, all contributed to why I wanted to be a part of [Fordham’s First Gen Network].”
Up until the 2021-22 academic year, Fordham did not provide many resources or connection opportunities to ease first generation (first-gen) students’ transitions into university life. This year Fordham saw the creation of the First Generation Network. The network is student-led and aims to give first-gen students resources and a chance to meet each other.
“FCRH, FCLC and GSB collaborated to create a network across the undergraduate colleges to ensure greater access and support for students to help foster a sense of belonging at Fordham. The network was designed to leverage student leadership and amplify the voices of first-generation students to ensure that their stories are authentically and regularly shared,” said Christie-Belle Garcia, assistant dean for student support and success of Fordham College at Rose Hill.
Having the network has given students the opportunity to get to know one another. Meeting with other students dealing with the same struggles has allowed many first-gen students to feel less alone at Fordham. According to Danna Rojas, FCRH ’24, co-creator of the network, one of the hardest things about being a first-generation student is the feeling of isolation.
“I feel like one of the big issues with first-gen students is that we feel so alone. We feel that there’s nobody who understands our struggles, but there are other first-gen students that we can get connected to. We [didn’t before] because there was no network. We just needed a way to find each other,” said Rojas.
Rojas also noted that the First Generation Network can help students feel more connected and at home in the Fordham community.
According to Rojas, there are a lot of students at Fordham who are “white, not first-gen and come from a high-income background. That can be very isolating for someone who is not that, [and] who doesn’t fit into that.” She said, “alongside the other student [leaders], I really wanted to make [a first-gen network] happen because I felt that [a network] would probably encourage more diversity here and carve out more spaces for first-gen, low-income students.”
Creating the First Generation Network has been very powerful for the student leaders. According to Chen and Rojas, founding the first-gen network has allowed them to create an important legacy at the university.
“I’m excited for the people who are in their freshman, sophomore or junior years, to be able to be a part of the network and continue these conversations. I’m excited to come back to Fordham and look at what they’ve done over the years,” said Chen.
“The most rewarding part is the feeling of really creating something that’s really going to help other people, myself included, yes, but knowing that after my time here at Fordham is done, there will still be something here that I am leaving for other students that will help them tremendously,” said Rojas.
In the spring 2022 semester, the network will host an informational seminar for all students to learn more about first-generation students and their challenges. They will also have a “meet-and-greet” for first-gen students to meet each other face to face. You can keep up with First Generation Network at their Instagram page: @fordhamfirstgen or by emailing them at [email protected]