Students attend 1vyG conference

by Joyce Lee | 3/3/17 2:10am

Thirty Dartmouth students traveled to attend the third annual 1vyG conference last weekend. 1vyG is an organization that connects first-generation Ivy League students so they can improve their campuses for first-generation college students. The theme for this year’s conference was “From Posts to Progress: Leveraging Social Activism to Actualize Institutional Reform for First-Generation College Students.”

Student organizer Bethany Malzman ’19 said that the majority of the conference consisted of workshops, panels, lectures, discussions and various programs dealing with different aspects of first-generation identity and how first-generation students are perceived at higher education institutions. Various speakers were also present at the conference, including professors and faculty members who have conducted sociology or education research or were first-generation students themselves, she said.

“That was important to hear,” Malzman said. “There was a professor who was first-generation who talked about getting into academia and how, as an undergraduate, she believed she wouldn’t be able to be part of academia in the future.”

Students also had the opportunity to network with representatives from different nonprofit and for-profit sectors that were present at the event. The networking sessions allowed students who may not have had these opportunities at Dartmouth or at home or who may not have been able to properly engage in these situations to have more casual conversations with these companies, Malzman said.

“[These companies] were looking for the type of students that first-generation students are,” she said. “Most of our delegates were ’19s and ’20s, so it was great to have this opportunity to think about future career plans and things to do on off terms.”

Director of First Year Student Engagement Program Jay Davis ’90 and assistant dean to first-generation and low-income students Rachel Edens were the administrative facilitators for the trip this year. Davis said that the presence of major corporate organizations such as Google and Goldman Sachs at the conference shows that they recognize the leadership capacity of first-generation students.

Davis said his frequent meetings with administrators from various institutions during the conference provided a unique opportunity to share best practices for meeting the needs of an underrepresented population.

“Some particularly important discussions were about ways of reducing gaps in experience and equalizing the opportunities of students from lower income backgrounds,” he said. “And also ways to capitalize on unique strengths of first-generation students.”

Davis said that institutions of higher education too often approach issues of underrepresented populations from a deficit model, focusing on opportunities that these students might not have had and gaps that need to be filled. The conference, on the other hand, was an example of looking at the unique strengths and powers that students from first-generation backgrounds bring to these institutions and to the outside world, he said.

Davis said that it was energizing and inspiring to have the Dartmouth students who attended the event realize that they were part of a community of 300 first-generation students at Ivy League colleges.

“One of the most important things the conference provides is the power of community,” Davis said.

Barbara Olachea ’19 said that at one of the sessions at the conference, she had the opportunity to meet groups of representatives from other colleges. They discussed the challenges they faced at different institutions, which she thought to be similar to the ones at Dartmouth, she said.

“Greek life was brought up for many students who are low-income [students], since they do not have the possibility of being a part of that culture on campus,” she said. “Some sororities and fraternities are not conscious of different economic statuses, so that tends to alienate a part of the student population.”

They also agreed that their institutions struggled to recognize different intersections of identities, she said. While the status of being first-generation and low-income tend to intersect, there are also people who are first-generation but come from a more privileged background and do not face certain challenges that other first-generation students face, she said.

“Some people have a certain image of privilege — it tends to be more common for minorities to come from less privileged backgrounds,” she said. “A white first-generation student might not be as visible on campus out of the whole spectrum of what’s present at Dartmouth.”

She said that students might have difficulty reaching out to resources they might need, emphasizing and that it is important to recognize different intersections and create a welcoming space on campus and provide resources for anyone who is disadvantaged in any way.

“We were talking about FYSEP being an excellent opportunity to provide resources for people who normally wouldn’t have them,” Olachea said. “But we would like to see some more student-initiated and run organizations that other colleges talk about.”

Student organizer Alexis Castillo ’19 said that part of the conference was spent learning how students can bring an issue to the attention of administrators and act to make change.

“One of the important takeaways I got from the conference was how to approach your audience and present your case, not to just get support, but to show evidence of what you need for the community,” Castillo said.

Castillo said that the conference was important because it allowed her to see how students and administrators can work together to create change.

Davis said that all three 1vyG conferences he has attended emphasized the potential of the group of students at the events. He was able to see the growth of networking occur among administrators and students.

“There have been changes on this campus that have come out of these conferences,” Davis said. “When a conference results in actual change rather than elevated discussion and rhetoric, that’s a good testament to it.”

Such changes included being aware of food necessity on campus, Olachea said. At the 1vyG conference at Harvard University last year, Harvard sociology Anthony Abraham Jack lectured on his research into students’ limited access to food during interim. Students who are unable to return home during interim periods are expected to find food while institutions shut down their services, which is difficult at a place like Dartmouth where there are limited options, Olachea said.

“Jack mentioned that female students will go on dates through dating apps to get food,” she said. “In some extreme cases, students at other colleges have talked about having sex with other students to feed themselves — that’s not something people think about. There were shocked reactions from people who didn’t know about this and at the thought of students not being able to provide for themselves.”

Davis was one administrator who worked on being able to provide some sort of student support during break, Olachea said. This support involved a significant donation from the president’s office and meals for students during interim.

Issues discussed this year include family involvement on campus, Castillo said.

“During commencement, what can we do for families to feel welcome who have never stepped foot at Dartmouth or even at a college campus?” she said. “How can we support them emotionally [and] keep them informed throughout?”

One example of this support is translating promotional and informational material that is sent to parents from the College into multiple languages, Castillo said.

“It would just show that the College prioritizes parents — that would be a crucial step towards having them more involved, more engaged,” Olachea said.

Other changes include engaging first-generation alumni to connect with students, as well as forming a library where FYSEP students would be able to check out textbooks if they would otherwise struggle to afford textbooks for their classes, Castillo said. They also discussed professional development, such as advice on presenting and dressing for interviews.

Malzman said that it was clear that the conference had a large impact on students, as participants had the chance to see that change is possible when a large group of people from across the country unites.

“The theme [of the conference] was apparent in every session we had, where the goal was to figure out what can we change to make things better,” she said. “We saw how we could bridge the gap in college access, what can we bring back to Dartmouth to better the conditions for our first-generation community. Everyone at the conference had the chance to see what it’s like for a large group of people to get together and make change happen.”

Olachea is a former member of The Dartmouth staff.