Faculty, staff and students throughout the Washington State University system are invited to participate in a series of events this week in celebration of National First-Generation Day on Nov. 8.

The Council for Opportunity in Education and the Center for First-Generation Student Success launched the inaugural First-Generation College Celebration in 2017. They have since encouraged colleges and universities across the country to organize activities every year during the week of Nov. 8 to celebrate first-generation students and bring attention to their unique backgrounds and needs. As a First-Forward institution designated by NASPA (Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education), WSU defines first-generation students as those whose parents or guardians did not receive a four-year degree.

Intersecting identities and pedagogy

Beginning today, Nov. 4, 2-3:30 p.m., in WSU Pullman’s Compton Union Building Butch’s Den (room L60), four college professors from around the country will present a webinar titled “A Balancing Act: Faculty andFirst-Gen.” The briefing from NASPA (Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education) will include testimonials and personal narratives about how intersecting identities, personal backgrounds, and life experiences inform their pedagogy and research practices. A facilitated discussion will follow. More information about the webinar can be found on the NASPA website. The webinar will be available via Zoom.

As a First-Forward institution, WSU is committed to sharing knowledge about first-generation students with campus communities, said Lucila Loera, executive director for the Office for Access and Opportunity.

“We are tapping into the national movement of first-gen awareness and celebration as we continually strive to move our own efforts forward to better support first-gen students,” Loera said.

People and public policy are key

WSU graduate Maria Chávez will conduct a coffee and donut session with undergraduate, graduate, and professional students on Friday, Nov. 8, beginning at 9 a.m. in CUE 518. That session will be followed by a luncheon presentation for faculty and staff beginning at noon in the Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center. The lunch presentation will be livestreamed.

Her coffee and donut session will be titled “Debunking the Latino Threat Narrative: The Consequences of Lack of Representations and Systems of Oppression”. WSU’s Common Reading Program will provide extra credit to students in attendance.

The luncheon presentation will be titled “First-Generation Latino Professionals: Stories and Strategies to Increase the Pipeline.” A book signing will follow.

Chávez is an associate professor in the Political Science at Pacific Lutheran University. She is the author or co-author of four books. The first, Everyday Injustice: Latino Professionals and Racism, won the prestigious American Political Science Association’s Latino Caucus Best Book Award in Latino Politics published in 2011. Her new book, Latino Professionals in America: Testimonios of Policy, Perseverance, and Success was released in May. She earned her Ph.D. in political science from WSU in 2002.

Chávez is excited about engaging the WSU community in discussions about first-generation students, believing it is important for faculty and staff to understand that first-gen students often make mistakes because they don’t know how to navigate the system. When they do make mistakes, they might not have a safety net of people who can help resolve them. They only get one chance to do get it right.

“While it takes a lot of perseverance from first generation students to succeed, equally significant, it takes a combination of key people and public policies that together can make a difference in addressing opportunity gaps,” she said. “First-gen students are incredibly resilient and talented, but they don’t know what they don’t know, so people and policies equalize the playing field for them.”

We are not alone

WSU Pullman sophomore Francisco Espindola said a lot of people are unaware there are so many first-generation students attending WSU. According to the WSU Office of Institutional Research, the numbers range from 30 percent of the student body at WSU Spokane, 32 percent on the Pullman campus, 42 percent at WSU Everett, 51 percent at WSU Vancouver, and 54 percent at WSU Tri-Cities.

Espindola’s father, a farm worker, ended his education during third grade to help support his large family. His mother did not finish high school. Both want a better life for their children and encouraged them to consider college. Espindola said it is his destiny to earn his criminal justice and human development degree at WSU and is excited about someday joining a SWAT team, becoming a homicide detective, and eventually an undercover FBI agent.

“The activities planned this week are important because they let us first-generation students know that we are not alone in our journeys,” he said. “This is a good opportunity for us to become empowered, empower others, and learn from each other’s histories.”

The week’s activities conclude Nov. 8-10 when many first-generation high school students from Central Washington converge in Pullman for WSU’s annual CASHE Conference, one of several student-led outreach programs that promotes higher education to diverse students.

More information about events across the WSU system can be found on the Division of Student Affairs website.