University honors First-Gen Day

Veronica Escoffery-Runnels, associate professor of school psychology, speaks to students at the First Generation Celebration event Wednesday in the Campus Center. The Campus Activities Board hosted the event to highlight the experiences of first generation college students. / photo by Sheridan Lambrook
Veronica Escoffery-Runnels, associate professor of school psychology, speaks to students at the First Generation Celebration event Wednesday in the Campus Center. The Campus Activities Board hosted the event to highlight the experiences of first generation college students. / photo by Sheridan Lambrook

Olivia Modarelli
Copy Editor 

Students gathered Wednesday to celebrate National First-Generation Day. First-generation students, who make up over 40% of the University of La Verne’s student body, are those whose parents or guardians did not complete a four-year college degree.

The day’s events, which included a breakfast celebration at the Johnson Family Plaza and a lunch reception in the Leo’s Den, were hosted by the Holistic & Inclusive Practices for Student Success program. The program is supported by the Title III Hispanic Serving Institution STEM Grant, a grant from the U.S. Department of Education that supports Hispanic-serving institutions like the University of La Verne with a primary focus on first-generation students and those students pursuing STEM degrees. 

“We, through the grant and the programs that we run, feel that it’s really important to acknowledge the work that our students are doing and recognize how difficult college can be, just overall, but especially for first-gen students who don’t have the social capital or may not have the family circle to help them navigate college,” said Aracely Gutierrez, director of the holistic and inclusive practices program. “Today’s really just about empowering students, recognizing them and also showing them that they’re not the only ones.” 

One way the events were able to empower students was by encouraging them to write affirmations that will be placed in the holistic and inclusive practices office in the Campus Center, where students can pick them up on days they feel they need a little extra encouragement. 

Creating these affirmations was freshman business administration major Cayla Harang’s favorite part of the event. A first-generation student, she said she loves to share words of encouragement with others to keep them motivated. 

“It’s a big accomplishment for me as well as my family because they’ve never experienced anything like this,” Harang said. 

She said the event was a way for her to get her story out there. 

All the students who attended were encouraged to write their stories, thoughts and experiences as a first-generation student on pages titled “Your Story” and then attach a polaroid photo taken at the event to the page. All the pages were then added to a board in the middle of the Johnson Family Plaza that was filled by the end of the event, highlighting the sense of community the event was able to create.

Junior kinesiology major Kaylee Perdomo, although having experienced feeling lost on campus as a first-generation student, said that having a community helps. 

“Having other people to connect to and relate to, it helps a lot,” Perdomo said. 

Once students completed both their words of affirmation and their story page, they received free “ULV First Gen Proud” crewnecks. 

A lunch reception and raffle was then held in the Leo’s Den, hosting guest speakers President Pardis Mahdavi, who attended virtually, Director of Accessibility and SOS Services Adrianne Montero-Camacho and Program Director for the Educational Counseling and School Psychology Program Veronica Escoffery-Runnels. 

Separately, they each shared their college experiences navigating things like imposter syndrome, finding their place and/or college life as a first-generation student. They also shared words of encouragement and support to their audience. 

“I’m here to tell you, you belong, and I’m so excited to co-create with you a sense of belonging so that everyone feels that this campus is home for you,” Mahdavi said. “You matter, your story matters and no matter how challenged you feel and no matter how unsettling it can feel to be a first-gen student, just know that we’re here for you, that we support you, that we’ve got you and we are here holding space for you always.”

Montero-Camacho and Escoffery-Runnels expressed similar sentiments. 

Escoffery-Runnels also encouraged students to know their “why,” as the answer to that question will allow them to keep moving forward. 

“Know your ‘why’ because it will keep you here and get you through to the other side,” she said. 

Montero-Camacho encouraged students to take advantage of the support offered to them on campus.

“If you identify as first-gen, if you identify with another marginalized or underrepresented identity, and you hear those of us saying ‘come to us,’ I hope that if you’ve been hesitant to do that, that today you might change your mind…” she said. 

Students can follow the ULV Title III Grant’s Instagram page @ulv_firstgen

Olivia Modarelli can be reached at olivia.modarelli@laverne.edu.

Olivia Modarelli, a senior journalism major with a concentration in print-online journalism, is a staff photographer for the Campus Times. She previously served as a staff writer and copy editor.

Sheridan Lambrook, a senior journalism major with a concentration in visual journalism, is photography editor and a staff writer for the Campus Times.

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