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First-Generation Student Celebration

AUSTIN RUDICEL | CAVELIFE EDITOR

Friday, November 8, 2019 marks the third year of the nationally recognized First-Generation College Celebration. Wabash is celebrating this day and showing its appreciation for the substantial amount of first-gen college students, faculty, and staff within the Wabash community.

NASPA, Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, created the day of recognition to honor first-generation students and illustrate how impactful their role is within university life. College students as a whole come from diverse backgrounds and it can be challenging to identify other first-gen students. This celebration will recognize these students and their achievements and connect them with other first-gen students. 

Wabash consists of a significantly higher percentage of students, faculty, and staff that are first-generation college as opposed to other Indiana and liberal arts institutions. Bobby Horton, Professor of Psychology, said that 35% of Wabash students and around four dozen faculty and staff members are the first in their family to attend or graduate from college. Five out of the seven Senior Staff members are also first-generation college graduates.

“Wabash has a long tradition of educating and working with first-generation college students. They are the bread and butter of this college,” Horton said. The First-Generation College Celebration lets first-generation students know that there is a large support network within the faculty and staff that have similar experiences with the unique challenges with being the first in their family to attend college.

Eric Olofson, Associate Professor of Psychology, is a first-generation college student and understands the obstacles first-gen students face. From an early age, Olofson’s mother stressed the importance of education, and this motivated him to succeed academically throughout school and into college at Concordia College. As the first in his family, Olofson did not know how to prepare and apply for college and had to learn through competitions on his high school’s speech and debate team held on college campuses. 

“Attending college was not part of my family’s culture,” Olofson said. As the first in his family, Olofson was exposed to a new culture that took time to understand. His family and extended family were very proud of him for being the first family member to attend college, but this created pressure to not disappoint them.

This pressure is something many first-generation students face. Shane Taylor ’21 was the first in his family and extended family to attend college and hears similar comments at family gatherings. “I am looked up to by my young nieces as a role model for them because I’m in college.” Wabash helped alleviate some of the pressures Taylor felt while he transitioned into Wabash life. With over one third of students being first-generation, it is important that they know they are not alone. To help recognize other first-generation students, faculty, and staff, Wabash will distribute “W. First Gen Proud” stickers for the First-Generation College Celebration and encourage students to proudly display them.

“I hope this day makes it clear to students who feel they don’t belong that faculty and staff have been there and students take advantage of those resources,” Olofson said. As this celebration grows, Wabash hopes to bring in first-generation guest speakers and hold larger events. Students are never alone at Wabash and this celebration will help connect them with other first-generation students within the Wabash community.