Dartmouth hosts first-generation celebration week
Dartmouth’s First-Generation Office hosted events including community celebration dinners and baked goods handouts.
From Nov. 5 to Nov. 10, Dartmouth’s First-Generation Office honored more than 700 first-generation undergraduate students and faculty, expanding National First-Generation Day to a weeklong celebration this year, according to FGO directors Janice Williams ’92 and Jay Davis ’90.
“It’s meant to be, ‘We see you, we applaud you, we welcome you, we uplift you [and] we’re glad you’re here,’” Williams said. “It’s also meant to highlight the fact that there are staff and faculty who are first-gen.”
The week began on Sunday with a group photograph of 90 students in front of Baker-Berry Library. Events included the handout of baked goods at the Sustainability Office, an Admissions Office welcome reception and a community celebration dinner on National First-Generation Day — in which Dartmouth senior vice president and senior diversity officer Shontay Delalue delivered a keynote speech.
“Several of us identify as first-generation college graduates ourselves and thus know firsthand what each student brings to the community,” Delalue said. “I shared parts of my journey navigating college and my professional career as the first in my immediate family to graduate from college. My hope was that my story would inspire others.”
As founder of the Prepare to Launch Program, a new initiative focused on career and post-graduation opportunities, Williams has worked to celebrate first-generation students by connecting them with peer mentors, alumni, the creation of a first-generation, low-income directory for students, staff and faculty, the Academic Skills Center and Thayer Career Services.
“When I was a student, we didn’t have a term for what we were,” Williams said. “There was no first-gen anything. I was familiar with legacies, so I understood students that were here whose parents, grandparents and male lineage had been here for generations. I knew that community, and that was far from my experience.”
Ashley Reyes ’25, who serves as FGO’s community relations student director, said the first-generation community feels like “home.”
“Even though we come from different backgrounds, we still hold the same identity [that] we’re first gen,” Reyes said. “So there’s definitely that rapport within our community and a feeling of belonging we encounter in the greater Dartmouth community.
Launched in 2009, the FGO started with the First-Year Summer Enrichment Program, a pre-orientation program for first generation, low-income first year students that empowers students in their transition to college. Initially a four-day program with 24 students, the program has since expanded to become a four-week long program with over 80 students enrolled this past summer. This expansion was made possible by the support and financial contributions of a first generation, low-income alum in 2020.
Today, the FGO oversees FYSEP, the King Scholars Program — which provides four-year scholarships to low-income international students interested in addressing social issues in their home countries — and the Prepare to Launch Program.
Davis attributed the FGO’s success to the strong relationships between students, peers, staff and mentors.
“Spending time with the students, laughing with them and talking about your own weaknesses and struggles has allowed for a willingness to share vulnerability and establish trust. I think that really does help break down barriers,” Davis said.
For Ashley Laveriano ’24, now a mentor to first-generation underclassmen, the FGO has become integral to her Dartmouth experience.
“Aside from the space and the resources, the overall sense of support means a lot to me,” Laveriano said. “Being able to talk to people like [Davis], or meet with [Williams], and be asked, ‘How are you doing?’, and have the courage and trust to be truthful in your response, is reflective of the space.”
The FGO looks forward to involving students and families in future initiatives, as well as hosting more community events that will continue to allow for relationship building.
Davis noted that there has been a recent acceptance of the term first-generation, and with it positive connotations.
“It’s been a really exciting evolution from a time when people didn’t even use the words first-generation to now it being a thing that people describe themselves with pride, and with an understanding that, that name — first gen — represents wonderful resilience and just exceptional strength of character,” Davis said.