Claiming our Mo’olelo: First-generation Narratives from UH Mānoa

J. Māhealani Quirk, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa / The Center / March 11, 2021

Moʻolelo [stories] are central to Native Hawaiian culture and identity. Moʻolelo connects Kanaka [Hawaiians] to their genealogy, to place, to one another, to community, and to the natural and spiritual world. Drawing upon the ancestral knowledge, culture, and history of Kanaka ʻŌiwi [Native Hawaiian], the University of Hawaiʻi, Mānoaʻs (UHM) First Generation Task Force invited first-generation students, faculty, and staff to share their personal moʻolelo of how they navigate(d) higher education in our campus’ inaugural First Generation Celebration. The task force is composed almost exclusively of first-generation alumni who also participated in sharing their own experiences as students in academia. 

Our celebration launched our campus's first-generation Instagram account, @im1stuhm, and the task force intentionally hosted the event via Instagram to create a following and provide traction to @im1stuhm. The celebration highlighted photos and moʻolelo of participants from November 16th through November 20th, although due to the overwhelming response and the desire to share all contributions, the festivities were extended for another 1-2 week(s) to feature all first-generation stories that we were gifted. 

Moʻolelo gathered came from diverse voices in higher education. They included adult learners (“non-traditional students”), traditional undergraduate, and graduate students from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds; student parents; and instructional and student affairs faculty and staff, including our Interim Vice Chancellor of Students, Dr. Lori Ideta. Through these first-generation spotlights, the intersection of participants' identities demonstrated the resilience and protective factors students drew upon, both personal and familial, as they maneuvered through their degree programs. 

My ancestors...worked incredibly hard...and sacrificed so much so that I could have a better life. I am eternally grateful to them for rising me up so that I could have access to advantages that they never had.

Our first-generation campaign was successful in building community and representation at UH Mānoa, it produced an opportunity to make visible the presence of first-generation students on campus, but moreover, it provided folx an arena to hear the voices and lived experiences of first-generation students we serve and work with.  

The UHM task force were further able to create community within our group of respondents by providing each of them with a “PROUD FIRST GEN UH Mānoa” T-shirt, which was made possible through the financial support of the Center For First-generation Student Success and the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) via the 2020 First-Generation College Celebration Grant Opportunity

Our work to facilitate presence, voice, and support to first-generation students at the University of Hawaiʻi, Mānoa has just begun. It is our hope that the launch of @im1stuhm and our annual First-Generation College Celebration, along with our other developing initiatives, will assist and propel our campus constituents and partners to join in our collective effort to provide holistic support and mentorship to current and incoming UHM first-generation students and their families.

For more information on University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s approach, please visit their website here.