First-generation students explore their identities

“What does it mean to be first-generation?” This was the subject addressed at the First-Generation Student Center’s inaugural event this week. It was structured as an interactive workshop to discuss what it means to be a first-generation student. Although aimed towards first-generation students, the discussions that took place were ones that allies could also relate to.

The event was run by student facilitators Mya McQueen, a graduate student who works for the Education Opportunity Fund (EOF) Program and First-Generation Student Center, Miranda Garcia, a graduate assistant at the Cahill Center and Jordan Meredith, a graduate assistant for the Center of Student Success and Student Outreach for the First-Generation Student Center. McQueen and Meredith are both first-generation students and are currently working towards their master’s degrees.

Before the event began, McQueen set an important ground rule for the workshop on sharing experiences.

“Anything that you share, it will try to stay in this room, especially personal, because you know the first-generation experience. Many people have different experiences, so anything that you share that is very personal stays in the workshop,” she said.

McQueen began by defining what it means to be a first-generation student at Ramapo, specifically since the definition may vary across other college campuses. According to the First-Generation Student Center website, “A first-generation student is defined at Ramapo College of New Jersey as an undergraduate where neither parent(s) nor legal guardian(s) have completed a bachelor’s degree in the U.S.” That led to the first discussion, which centered around attendees describing their experiences as first-generation students.

“The way I would describe my experience is that it is constantly evolving and I’m always learning something”

-Mya McQueen

“I think for me, it’s equally stress-inducing but also rewarding just because it’s really hard to have to juggle and not understand and navigate kind of alone,” said Gabriella Fonseca, a first-generation undergraduate student majoring in global communications. She said it was rewarding to succeed and get through rough patches and have the support of her family, even if they are unable to help.

The next point of discussion was something everyone in the room could relate to: purpose. McQueen asked the question of what each person feels their purpose is.

“I really think purpose is what kind of fuels your energy and would be your motivation. Like, this is the one thing where, you know, whatever happens, this is what you want to wake up to in the morning,” she said.

Meredith said her purpose has changed since being a student. At first, she believed her purpose was to learn and earn her degree. Through her work at the Center for Student Success, her purpose became to help students succeed, especially “people that look like me.”

Fonseca said she had a similar mindset when coming to Ramapo. She transferred to Ramapo during COVID and her mindset was that she would be here until COVID ended, uncertain of when the pandemic would be over. Now, after experiencing campus life, she said she wants to be an advocate and ally for other first-generation students.

“I don’t want to overshadow and talk for them,” she said. “I want to talk with them… I feel like the world needs to change and I know I can’t do it alone, but I also want other people to feel the same way I do.”

The conversation shifted to self-empowerment using K.D. Wilson’s “Motivation You’ve Never Heard” as a point of discussion. The ideas from the video that were discussed were the difference between “being powerful or powerless” and doing something for yourself versus doing something to please others. That led to a closing reflection on the generational gap between Gen Z, millennials and boomers.

Next Wednesday, the First-Generation Student Center is holding an event called “Way to Love Being a First-Gen Student” in D-Wing 212C. Students are invited to fill out post-it notes of why they love being first-generation.

Photo by Matthew Wikfors