First-generation and limited-income students gathered together during Hoos First Celebration Week at a variety of events taking place from Monday to Saturday to celebrate their accomplishments and create community on Grounds. Finding a sense of belonging is a struggle shared by most college students, but this can be especially difficult for FGLI students who do not have a parent or guardian who has been through the college process before.
To combat some of these struggles and celebrate the accomplishments of FGLI students and faculty, the University’s Office of Student Affairs houses the Hoos First Program, a program that provides FGLI students with resources at the University. Hoos First spotlighted and applauded FGLI students in a special week filled with programming aimed to foster community and solidarity.
The University defines a first-generation student as someone’s whose parent or guardian did not obtained a four-year degree. Hoos First Celebration week featured a number of events including a kickoff event Monday where students picked up t-shirts and water bottles before taking a community photo in front of the Rotunda. Additional events included a seminar on education abroad for FGLI students and an Appreciation Reception for FGLI Faculty and Staff. The week finished on Saturday with a sunrise hike at Humpback Rocks hosted by U.Va. Recreation, U.Va. Veterans and Hoos First.
Michelle Bair, director of Hoos First FGLI student initiatives, noted that the central location of Monday’s kickoff event — which took place on the first floor of Newcomb — means that many students both FGLI and non-FGLI have the opportunity to become aware of the many resources available to FGLI students.
“We really just want to make sure that [Hoos First] is known across grounds to ensure that everyone is aware of what this resource is,” Bair said. “So whether a student is FGLI or not, they're aware of what the resource is, they know where we're located [and] they know what we're doing.”
Students often reference the sense of community and belonging as important elements with this type of programming. Second-year College student Nora Kertache said that she hoped to learn about resources available to FGLI students at the event.
“[I liked] meeting other people that may be in similar positions because I know in my classes I feel like I don't usually meet many people that are also first-gen,” Keratche siad.
Among the number of student-run CIOs for FGLI students is First of the Family, an organization dedicated to supporting FGLI students including those who may not fit into the University’s definition of FGLI — for example, if their parents attended school in another country or attended only a small local school.
Niya Rhodes, founder of First of the Family and third-year College student, said that the celebration week is important in allowing students to know that they are seen and supported at the University.
“This is to give those students that sense of identity and community… they might not [technically be] first-generation but they still felt like they really needed support,” Rhodes said.
A number of student organizations exist to support FGLI students. The First Generation/Low Income Partnership at the University is one such organization that aims to promote community and empower FGLI students.
Similar programming exists for graduate students who may be forgotten by the greater University community but still benefit from additional support. These include Virginia Law First Generation Professionals, which focuses on supporting first-generatin students at the Law School and hosted Wednesdays Hoos First and Hot Cocoa event. The First Generation Graduate Student Coalition hosted a discussion panel with Darden professor Sean Martin and associate professor Denise Walsh on gender and the first-generation experience.
The first-generation community at the University is a small one, with first generation students making up only 17.5 percent of the Class of 2027. While still a small percentage, this is an increase from 15.6 percent of the Class of 2026.
Hoos First also plans to open up a new FGLI student center by January 2024. The student center will be located in Newcomb and will act as a community gathering place for students.
Bair said that she hopes it will help provide a greater sense of community belonging to FGLI students.
“The hope for the centers is for it to be a space and where FGLI students can come to and build community, participate in activities — whether it's through programming that our office is sponsoring or through programs through some of the FGLI-centered CIOs or other campus partners.”