While Lehigh continues to physically expand campus with the addition of the College of Health and new residence halls, Lehigh’s student population is evolving: both culturally and demographically. Lehigh is continuing to make efforts to open its doors to first-generation students. (Courtesy of Jenny Lin)

First-Generation student population grows, enriches campus

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As Lehigh continues to expand its campus with the addition of the College of Health and the new residence halls, Lehigh’s student population is evolving — both culturally and demographically. 

In recent years, Lehigh has made significant efforts to open its doors to first-generation college students. 

“For Lehigh to be strengthened and for our path to truly be prominent, we have to allow first-gen students,” said Aarsenio Perry, the assistant dean and director of the Office of Student Engagement.

Perry expects the first-gen community to continue to grow at Lehigh.

Lehigh has instituted organizations and initiatives for the first-gen population to ensure that students not only choose to attend Lehigh, but also remain enrolled until graduation.

“There is a multitude of first-gen organizations present here at Lehigh,” said Adrian Suarez, ‘22, a Gryphon for the first-year, first-gen housing in Lower Cents. “The support is there if you are willing to look for it.”  

Lehigh has several organizations for first-gen student support such as LUSSI, POSSE and F1rst Club.

Many of the resources and organizations offered to first-gen students are entirely student-run.

F1rst was created out of Leadershape, an on-campus leadership conference, by first-gen students and believed there needed to be more resources established to aid first-gen students throughout their time at Lehigh. 

F1rst’s initial initiative was to create the Textbook Lending Library, where students can donate old textbooks for others to use. From there, F1rst has been one of the primary student advocacy groups on campus.  

Jenny Lin, ‘21, an executive member of F1rst, said students, especially first-gen students, can often feel distant from administration. She said F1rst is there to bridge that gap. 

“We want everyone’s voice to be heard,” Lin said. 

Since its start, F1rst has played a pivotal role in advocating for the needs of the first-generation students. 

Lin helped secure a newly implemented Laptop Lending Library, in which students can borrow a laptop to use if needed. 

“There are so many indirect costs students don’t know about until they are here,” Lin said. 

This Laptop Lending service is a crucial step in ensuring students have access to the tools they need to succeed. 

First-gen students are responsible for other resources available on campus. The Diversity Office, LUSSI and Leadershape were all created through student advocacy by first-gen students. 

Perry said first-gen students, in many ways, enhance the culture at Lehigh. They are continuously altering and improving programs established here on campus, he said.

However, Suarez, Lin and Perry all said there is always room for improvement. 

Perry said Lehigh should ask students about their needs and that they should be proactive on issues such as food and housing insecurity, which he said could occur with Lehigh’s expansion. 

Perry also urges fellow faculty and staff to ask themselves how they support the first-gen population on campus and try to improve upon their efforts. 

Perry said he wants first-gen students to feel at home at Lehigh and understand that they are worthy and deserve to be here. 

“I want them to see themselves as not through a deficit lens, but see the value they hold here at Lehigh,” Perry said.

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