ANU First Generation Celebration 2021

Ash Dowling, The Australian National University / The Center / April 14, 2021

The Australian National University (ANU) is widely recognised both nationally and internationally for its excellence in research and student experience. Despite this, ANU is not known for attracting a high proportion of students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds, including first-generation students.

At present, data on first-generation students is only collected at an institutional level, and while the University does capture data on each student’s parental education level on admission, the University does nothing further with this information. Due to this, the group remains largely invisible on campus, meaning we, as a university, have very limited understanding about these students and their experiences at ANU.

In recognition of this, the ANU Engagement and Success Manager applied for a grant to host an inaugural ANU First Generation Celebration. The celebration’s purpose was to showcase a range of personal stories from current students, alumni, and staff who are first-generation to celebrate their successes and start a conversation.

The ANU Engagement and Success team provides support to all students coming to ANU to find belonging; engage in opportunities for learning and social connection; and assist them as they navigate complex university systems, processes, and norms early in their transition to university. Research shows that not every student comes to university with the same level of understanding and exposure to the insider knowledge of higher education. It is for this very reason that a celebration of this kind has the opportunity to increase visibility for traditionally underrepresented students at ANU.

This event...provided an opportunity for first-generation students to “see themselves” represented throughout the community and facilitated opportunities to create new connections.

The ANU First Generation Celebration consisted of a number of different activities. We ran a campaign sharing personal stories from new and current students, staff, and alumni from 12 – 30 April 2021 through the Faces of ANU page on Facebook. Faces of ANU aims to highlight ANU’s culture and community by telling different people’s stories and recognising the ways in which our ANU community contributes to society. The online campaign was a huge success, as each post received great interest with engagements on the stories ranging from 2,000 up to 7,178 views.

The team also hosted an in-person afternoon tea event on 21 April, which showcased a selection of personal stories from the online campaign to create a physical exhibition. This event was used as a platform to launch the first season of a podcast Flourishing and Floundering at ANU. This event brought together 25 attendees who engaged with the exhibition, enjoyed lively conversations about the barriers and hidden curriculum faced by first-generation students, and the need to do more in this space.

While this event had smaller attendance than we had hoped for, it provided an opportunity for first-generation students to “see themselves” represented throughout the community and facilitated opportunities to create new connections across student, staff, and alumni groups that have previously not been visible at ANU. The future focus of this celebration is to grow year after year and deliver new initiatives that support and connect first-generation students with alumni and staff at the university.

We are truly grateful for the opportunity to deliver this celebration; it has been successful in raising the visibility of first-generation students at ANU and awareness across the university, which we hope we can continue through future events, campaigns, and information sessions.

For more information on The Australian National University’s approach, please visit their website here.