First-Generation Student Center hosts events promoting mental health

Newly recognized this year, Ramapo’s First-Generation Student Center has partnered with the First-Generation Counselor & Outreach Specialist in the Center for Counseling Services to support first-generation students during their academic journey. The partnership, while not new, is uncovering a new set of events to recognize first-gen students and their battles with mental health.

This recent partnership came out from the positions of the program being created back in November 2022. Uma Mahalingam, the inaugural Assistant Director of the First-Generation Student Center, and First-Generation Counselor & Outreach Specialist Jacklin Kurter were both hired when the positions opened as part of a state grant that led them to where they are today. 

With 47% of the incoming class at Ramapo College identifying as first-gen and 40% of the students seeking out Counseling Services being first-gen, helping the first-gen students has taken precedence.

Over the last year and a half, Mahalingam and Kurter have worked together regularly to brainstorm and bring about new first-generation initiatives, such as drop-in hours where students can stop by and get questions addressed without an appointment. Through this partnership, first-generation students have multiple resources across campus to support them as they pursue their four-year degree.

The hope for the partnership “is to provide access, programming, student support, and community building with the goal of strengthening first-generation students’ sense of belonging, persistence, and retention at Ramapo College,” as stated by Mahalingam in an email with The Ramapo News.

According to Taylor and Francis Online, research indicates that first-generation students experience heightened mental health symptoms such as anxiety, stress and depression. However, they seek mental health services at a lower rate. 

Mahalingam says that providing first-generation students with the opportunity to connect with the dedicated First-Generation Counselor & Outreach Specialist is bridging this gap and encouraging help seeking behaviors that ultimately contribute to students’ overall wellness.

Resources like this are important for first generation students and can help them navigate their new environment. The transition to college for first-generation students can be challenging and the students can face the pressure of being the first in their families to potentially graduate with a four-year degree from a college in the United States. Since they come from families with little to no college experience, first-generation students may not fully understand how to navigate the academic environment, how to build social and professional relationships or how to cope with mental health challenges that arise. 

“As a counselor, I provide a safe and confidential space to talk, teach stress management skills, and provide resources. Through counseling, students can receive support and work on improving their mental health,” Kurter stated in an email.

Over the past year and a half, more of the campus community has engaged in first-generation initiatives. So far, Ramapo has hosted several campus events throughout the school year and especially during First-Generation College Celebration Month in November, including the annual First-Gen College Celebration Proclamation and Tri-Alpha Honor Society Induction, which is the first-generation honor society. 

Kurter and Mahalingam are looking to host more events that present first-gen students the opportunity to practice self love and self care, improve relationships with themselves and others, and improve their own mental health.

“The First-Generation Student Center encourages all offices and academic programs to be mindful of the first-generation student experience and how they can support them in and out of the classroom,” Mahalingam said.

Mahalingam and Kurter urge all students, whether they are first-gen or not, to come out to events and participate in special mental health events and sessions. For more information, check out the Counseling Services website.


Featured photo courtesy of @RCNJFirstGen, Instagram