Being a first generation student can be intimidating. Walking into an unfamiliar classroom, conversing with students with different backgrounds and adapting to a new environment can be isolating for many students.
The First Generation Affinity Committee is a group of WSU employees who relate to these experiences, now mentoring other first generation students. They help make others aware of struggles that are not often talked about.
Committee leader Jessica Walles experienced these same feelings when she started college — which is a major factor why she wanted to be a part of the committee.
“As a first generation student you feel that you don’t belong, that everyone else knows a secret that you aren’t privy to because they know how to navigate these systems because they have been in these systems,” Walles said.
The committee was formed in 2019 with the help of Vice President for Strategic Engagement Kaye Monk-Morgan and Bobby Berry, assistant dean for the college of applied studies.
Monk-Morgan said that the university must recognize that a lot of the “do’s and dont’s” of college many students know, first generation students may not be familiar with. This committee is to help those students get the mentorship they need to flourish.
Walles said that the group started out in a small room in the Rhatigan Student Center, serving as a space to hear people’s ideas. Fifty people attended — over half of what they expected to show up.
“It was a very raw hour,” Walles said. “People were very transparent. People said, ‘This is something we have struggled with our whole careers, not knowing if we should be here’ … It was definitely eye-opening that this was needed on campus.”
Although there was already a First Generation Coordinating council in place, these members felt like more could be done. Members of the committee, even as a staff member, said they often felt that they were still going through the process of being the first in their respective areas.
“We wanted to create a mentorship program among the first generation professionals and work closely with the first generation coordinating committee,” Walles said. “Be able to reach out to students and mentor them as well.”
Walles said that one of the major problems for first generation students and faculty is the novel ‘imposter syndrome.’ .
“You feel like you don’t belong,” Walles said. “You walk into a room and feel that you aren’t as educated as these other people.”
This feeling can often cause anxiety and negatively affect people’s college experience.
Monk-Morgan said that there are practical ways for these issues to be addressed. She said that reinforcement of belonging is the way forward.
“You belong here, you have done the work, you have put in the work, gotten your degree and position on your own merit,” Monk-Morgan said.
Students have also worked hard to get where they are and deserve to be included also, as advocated by Morgan and Walles.
The committee argues that informing the student body of these issues will encourage others to appreciate and reinforce a safe and welcoming environment.
Not only do students have the opportunity to gain mentorship through the committee, they also have the ability to join the First Generation Student Organization. Students can join using GroupMe through www.wichita.edu or by using ShockerSync.
Meetings happen monthly, and give students a space to share thoughts, concerns and ideas about how to make campus more inclusive.