For Jeff Chen, ’20, coming to Lehigh was complete culture shock.
“I just wish that I could maybe have someone to talk to,” he said at the F1RST Generation Club gathering and dialogue April 25.
Students and faculty members, including those from the Financial Aid Office, came to the dialogue, hosted in UC 308.
F1RST is a student led club aimed toward helping and providing guidance to first generation college students at Lehigh. The talk was led by treasury secretary Jocelin Gregorio Alarcon, ’18. Gregorio Alarcon shared some of her personal struggles and talked about finding faculty support and gave an update on Lehigh’s LUCIE program. Gregorio also talked about the lack of personal support at Lehigh as well as a lack of diversity on campus.
“There’s that joke where you get the pamphlet and think, ‘Hey, it’s going to be pretty diverse here,’” Fredy Ramirez, ’19, said. “Then you come and you’re like, ‘Hey, where did they all go?’”
Ramirez lacked a support system at home and admitted to noticing many socioeconomic differences between himself and his peers on campus. Ramirez said one main problem is the lack of communication between those on and off the Hill because of the distance.
As his college career progressed, Ramirez began to feel alone, especially during his freshman year.
“I didn’t really have anyone to turn to, anyone to ask for help about how to take notes or balance classes,” Ramirez said.
He wants to help his siblings adjust seamlessly once they enter college.
Faculty members in attendance responded openly and agreed discussions like this are important for gaining perspective of the other side’s viewpoint. In the end, students and faculty agreed one of the best solutions to problems on campus would be the implementation of a mentorship between faculty and first-generation students on campus.
“It’s important for students to have a connection not only across departments, but with each other,” Casey Ching, ’17, said. “The people that I connect to the most are students that have the same background as me.”
Gregorio Alarcon said first-generation students should feel proud of who they are and what they have accomplished.
“At club fairs when F1RST tries to recruit club members we hear from students that they feel awkward identifying as first gen because many of their friends or peers come from more affluent backgrounds and they want to fit in,” Gregorio said.
Gregorio tells all first-generation students to advocate for themselves and share their personal experiences, because those experiences provide the most powerful change.