TRIO, Office of Student Affairs create first-generation faculty members list

Yifei Qin | Contributing Reporter

The Office of Student Affairs and TRIO Student Support Services are compiling a list of faculty and staff members who are first-generation college students as part of Washington University’s First Generation Celebration Day.

This initiative aims to help first-generation students thrive on campus by fostering their connection with faculty members who share this same identity.

Administrators also hope to facilitate mentorship between first-generation students, faculty and staff as part of the initiative.

“The purpose of the faculty list is to find out who on campus were first-generation college students,” Director of TRIO Kimberly Morton said. “Our plan is to reach out to the faculty and staff to see if they would like to be mentors for the first-generation students that we have on campus.”

Morton believes that this potential mentorship could benefit current first-generation students in a variety of ways.

“[There could be] mentorship for how to navigate college, how to navigate in the classroom…and how to work with different departments on campus,” Morton said. “Having the lens as a former first-gen student, they can help other students on campus to avoid some of the pitfalls they encountered when they were first-generation students in college.”

First-generation students also endorsed the idea, citing the importance of building professor-student relationships.

“In my opinion I think it’s such a great idea,” senior first-generation student Michelle Pacheco said. “It makes it so much easier to connect with professors and be more vulnerable if you need to. It’s more comfortable talking to a professor who shares the same background as you.”

Pacheco thinks that prior to this initiative, it was hard for faculty members to actually play a meaningful role in the support for first-generation students due to a lack of connection.

“It took a lot of effort for me to feel comfortable going to professors,” Pacheco said. “Not because they were intimidating but…I just didn’t know if they would understand anything I was going through.”

Morton acknowledges that faculty support needs more organization.

“Hopefully [faculty members] would know how to work with first-generation students. But I don’t know what it looks like on the Wash. U. campus,” Morton said. “This is TRIO’s effort to find out the information and then maybe we can figure [that] out.”

Pacheco also believes that increased visibility of identity will encourage first-generation students to reach out when they need help.

“First-gen is a hidden identity; you don’t know who is first-gen merely by looking at them or chatting with them. It is something you offer up to other people to connect with them,” Pacheco said. “Visibility allows you to see in bigger masses who connects with this identity, who wants to be an ally. You feel more empowered and supported by more of the community.”

This faculty list could be the starting point of many future measures to support first-generation students.

“I think this is a good first step. Obviously just getting an email like ‘This is your new mentor’ might not always work, but having this list is a good step,” Pacheco said. “It would be good to have a collective so everyone feels comfortable at first to develop and continue that relationship.”

Assistant Provost for Student Success Anthony Tillman wrote in a statement to Student Life that for many first-generation college students, the transition to college can be daunting, leading students to feel disconnected.

“The development of a first-generation faculty roster can become an immeasurable benefit to students who are also from first-generation family backgrounds,” Tillman wrote. “A roster of this capacity sends the strong signal/message to first-generation students that there are others in the campus community, faculty, staff, administrators, who were once in a similar space and place.”

Morton says that TRIO Student Support Services is already planning future events for this purpose.

“We are working with Denebs to do a first-generation conference in the spring and then we’re also doing [a] first-generation recognition ceremony at the end of the year,” Morton said.

Currently, the Office of Student Affairs and TRIO Student Support Services are still waiting for more responses from faculty members and compiling the list before taking new steps.

“We really want to figure out what is a good way to foster connection, and we just started thinking about it,” Morton said. “Our first step is to find the information.”

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