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The First-Gen Experience, Firsthand

By Amy Y. Li
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

Earlier this month, the Harvard Alumni Association, in partnership with the First Generation Harvard Alumni shared interest group, released an inaugural non-class “class report,” offering reflections from first-generation alumni. The volume, formed in the style of the traditional Red Books issued to each graduating class once every five years, was unveiled at a Harvard Alumni Association ceremony to both contributing alumni and current first-generation students.

We believe this publication is an important initiative by the Harvard Alumni Association to elevate the stories of traditionally underrepresented students on campus, containing helpful advice for current students, particularly on topics unique to the first-generation experience. This is a much-needed resource for those who are learning to adjust and adapt to Harvard — those who might benefit from advice on navigating a complicated and often intimidating new environment.

There is incredible value in introducing first-generation students to the wealth of knowledge that alumni have accumulated, as well as providing the beginning tools for how to network with people with whom they may have shared experiences. We do not see this book as a homogenous collection of experiences reflecting one particular way of being at Harvard, and we hope that it will not define students by their first-generation identity. Rather, we hope they will convey a variety of experiences that might resonate with current students, exposing them to the full range of possibilities their futures might hold and giving them a sense of the tools at their disposal.

The tangible nature of this project provides yet another impactful statement — relating the permanence and investment that the University has made and will continue to make for students of first-generation backgrounds. Rather than a webpage or an electronic document, the volume’s printed nature gives it greater material significance. This unique Red Book is an encouraging attempt to institutionalize the telling of first-generation stories and their incorporation into the idea of the Harvard experience.

Moving forward, the advice contained in these volumes might best be delivered and received at the beginning of students’ paths at Harvard. Making this book accessible to freshmen when they first matriculate is a key part of using it not only as a storytelling tool, but as a genuine source of advice.

We would love to see this initiative expand to other interest groups, identities, and aspects of student life. Being a first-generation student is just one among the many challenges faced by students through their time here — challenges that begin well before students step onto campus, and that sometimes continue long after they have left. Receiving alumni guidance on how various aspects of the Harvard experience have forged, affected, and influenced their identities can only serve to help students, current and future. We applaud this, not as a solution but an important first step in greater access and inclusion. This book will not level the playing field, but it gives first-generation and low-income students a playbook from which to start their journey.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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