When I first went to college, I didn't know what a first-generation student was or that I was one.
However, when I was completing my Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application and my mom had no idea how financial aid worked, I realized that college was going to be something that I’d have to figure out on my own. As the oldest of four children in a single-parent household, I knew that paying for college was also something I’d have to figure out on my own. It was difficult.
I remember at my undergraduate alma mater, the University of South Florida, I was required to attend an orientation so I could see the campus and finalize my class schedule. I lived four hours away, in Pompano Beach, so I ended up spending hundreds of dollars I’d earned from my summer job on a rental car and hotel just to make it to that orientation. A couple weeks later, I had to spend nearly all the money I had left on books for my classes. A few of my friends, who weren’t first-generation students, told me they used grant money to pay for their books. I didn’t even know these grants existed. All I knew was that most of us were broke college students eating ramen noodles. But when I found out that my friends got the best out of FAFSA while I scrambled to get a cosigner on loans, I didn’t just feel broke, I felt alone.
I didn’t feel alone for long. In fact, I was able to connect with faculty members who helped me fill out my application for graduate school and informed me about grants and scholarships available for people who looked like me.
In 2016, I moved from Florida to New York to attend Adelphi. Though my undergrad experience taught me to take advantage of resources and not do everything alone, I did move to New York by myself. I told my family and friends that I was excited but, deep down, I was terrified. Florida was all I knew. So many thoughts went through my head: Am I rushing into grad school? What if New York isn’t for me? Can I even handle the workload of my program? Am I even good enough to be here? I was a mess.
My first time coming to New York was just to see Adelphi. I was too anxious to care about Times Square and the greatness of halal platters. English Professor Igor Webb, PhD, gave me a personal tour of the campus. It was late spring, but Long Island was experiencing a heat wave and the temperature was as hot as summer in Florida, which reminded me of home. I saw bunnies, cherry trees still in bloom and a beautiful shade of gold—which I later learned was one of our school colors—all over campus. Maybe it was my love for smaller campuses or the funny jokes Dr. Webb made about keeping the windows closed so squirrels won’t sneak inside, but there was something about Adelphi that made me think “I can make this home.”
Once Adelphi offered me a scholarship, one that Dr. Webb told me about before I even got accepted, I knew that Adelphi was going to be my new home. I may not have had parents who could help me navigate college, but I had people like Dr. Webb who helped me make connections that changed my life and jump-started my career.
Now I get to help marginalized artists through my nonprofit, The Blunt Space Inc. My friends and I cofounded it to provide safe spaces and resources to underrepresented voices within the arts. From poets to painters, we provide platforms for artists to be as blunt as they want with their art. We also offer workshops and hold events such as open mics, festivals and showcases. I’m also the music editor for Frontrunner Magazine and work with artists such as Tayla Parx, Sinéad Harnett, Action Bronson, UMI, Leven Kali, BENEE, Samm Henshaw and Childish Major. Not only that, I’m the publicity assistant in the Office of University Communications and Marketing at Adelphi, where I get to stay connected with faculty and staff who helped shape me as a writer and leader.
Celebrating First-Generation Students
The obstacles I faced as a first-generation student are obstacles many first-generation students know too well. Fortunately, there are resources for not only first-generation students but low-income students and students of color, such as Adelphi’s Mentoring Program.
Since 2017, institutions and organizations from across the nation have participated in the National First-Generation College Celebration. The annual celebration occurs on November 8 to commemorate the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965, legislation that laid the groundwork for federal aid and resources to be available to first-generation students today. Events are held to not only celebrate first-generation students but also bring awareness to their experiences.
One such event is Adelphi’s First-Generation College Student Celebration and Dinner on Monday, November 8. The dinner will be held in the Ruth S. Harley University Center from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. There will also be a virtual panel presentation sponsored by the Mentoring Program on Wednesday, November 10, at 6:30 p.m. The panel will feature students, alumni and leaders from the Office of Academic Services and Retention, the Office of University Admissions, the Center for Career and Professional Development and the Office of Special Events. To register for the panel, people can send inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Adelphi recently welcomed one of the most diverse incoming classes in our history,” said Chotsani West, MA ’07, executive director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. “With the unique challenges faced by some first-generation students, we must let them know that they have a strong support system among all student-facing units and the entire Adelphi community. They are creating a legacy for their families by pursuing their education.”