USGA hosts open forum on struggles of first-generation college students

Mary Lippa, a psychology student at the University of New Haven and vice president of community, advocacy and diversity for the Undergraduate Student Government Association, led an open forum Nov. 29 for first-generation students and of the working class.

Lippa started the event by reading aloud a quote from former First Lady Michelle Obama: “When I came to school as a first-generation student, I didn’t know anyone on campus except my brother ; I didn’t know how to choose the right classes or find the right buildings; I didn’t even bring the right size sheets for my dorm bed. I hadn’t realized these beds were that long, so I was a bit overwhelmed and a bit isolated.

In the living room of the ancients, the chairs were arranged in a circle. The conversation started with the struggles of first-generation students that former students may not have. Cora Cogill, a senior business management student and USGA vice president of operations, said, “…it’s really important to make sure that…[Recognized Student Organizations(RSOs)]…and only campus offices realize that a large portion of our student population is [first-generation] and working-class students.

Eliza Hall, a junior clinical psychology student and first-generation student, said the First Generation Student Association (FGSA) is a new RSO aimed at directing first-generation students to university resources while helping them navigate colleges. . Hall is the president and co-founder of FGSA.

Hall said, “A lot of people on campus don’t know we have this resource for first-generation students and I really want to network and let people know. [that] if you are a first generation student, like me, even if you are not a first generation student, we are still an RSO who is here to support you.

So far, the FGSA has held events such as FAFSA Night in October and a Campus Resources Kahoot Night before the Thanksgiving holiday.
“I’m interested in knowing the visibility of resources on campus,” Lippa said. “Do people really see them?”

Forum students admitted that it took them time to resolve issues that could have been easily resolved by going to campus resources, had they known about them.

The conversation shifted to discussing students working while taking classes.

“I know a lot of students who have to work full-time in addition to being a full-time student or work part-time because they need the money,” Hall said. “It’s very upsetting to see that they don’t have time to manage school as well as work.”

Hall also discussed commuter students, especially those who are also first-generation. Hall, who is also a commuter assistant, said, “We do events for commuters, but the problem with commuters is that after they finish their course, they don’t want to stay on campus.” She also said commuters “feel very disconnected from school.”

Cogill reiterated its earlier message that RSOs and campus organizations were more aware of everyone in the university’s student body.

While much of the forum strayed away from first-generation students and focused on other college-related issues, the USGA was able to get a census of the top issues that students are concerned about. If you have any questions or concerns, contact the USGA by emailing [email protected]; if you are a first-generation student or need help navigating university life, contact the FGSA by email [email protected].

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