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More than 350 college students, administrators, and alumni from across the country gathered this weekend on Harvard’s campus to celebrate their identities as first-generation college students, representing the culmination of many years of first-generation advocacy at Harvard and other colleges.
The conference, hosted by a group called 1vyG that spans eight college campuses, comes after last year’s first-generation conference held at Brown University.
“Last year the conference gained so much momentum at Brown, receiving national publicity in the New York Times and the Globe, and we were really excited about it,” said Ted White ’17, an organizer of the event. “We wanted to get a shot at not only replicating that at Harvard’s campus, but also symbolize a lot of the work we’ve done here.”
Ana Barros ’16, another event organizer and a leader in the Harvard College First Generation Student Union, said the conference was intended to bring first-generation students together to foster a stronger sense of connection among that group.
“The goal of this conference is one to unify our community,” said Barros. “There’s a need for us to all come together and be surrounded by each other; any community needs that, and especially ours because the first-gen experience is so often an isolating experience.”
The conference included more than a dozen revered academics in areas relating to first-generation experiences, as well as addresses by Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67. President of the University Drew G. Faust gave a video address to students present.
“Demand integration, not just diversity,” said Stanford professor Prudence L. Carter during an address at the conference. “Inclusion is organizational, not just demographic, change."
Despite addresses given by top administrators, Barros and White emphasized students led the conference.
“For us, it’s been a culmination of the work we’ve been doing for three years, laying the foundations for the first-gen community here at Harvard and spearheading institutional reform here,” said Barros.
Barros and White said they attribute many of the recent institutional changes, such as the creation of the Harvard First Generation Program within the Admissions and Financial Aid Office, to student activism in recent years.
“When I came to Harvard, nobody talked about being a first-gen,” said Barros. “It’s been very hard, and to see this finally coming to fruition is very exciting for us.”
Organizers said they hoped to de-stigmatize conversation about first-generation students, Barros and White said.
“To see all of these people going through the same thing, if anything just that this conference exists, shows that there’s more to that part of my identity that I associate with that I can act on and not be ashamed of,” said Jorge Penado, a student at the University of Pennsylvania who attended the event.
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