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Supporting and Celebrating our First-generation Students

Michelle Bata, College of the Holy Cross / The Center / May 04, 2022

Tri-Alpha class at College of the Holy Cross

The College of the Holy Cross was designated a First-gen Forward institution in March 2021, but our commitment to the academic, professional, and personal success of our first-generation students has always been central to our social justice mission as a Jesuit, Catholic liberal arts college.

Our data shows that our first-generation college students graduate at rates higher than or equal to non-first-generation students. We attribute their success to the supports and close mentoring relationships we offer through our advising and peer mentor programs. Communicating these supports have been key, and consolidating relevant information into a website has been an important step. We have also taken steps to deliberately grow our first-generation student population. For example, in 2018, the College joined the American Talent Initiative, a partnership among the nation’s top colleges and universities to increase the number of first-generation college students nationally.

When first-generation students come to Holy Cross, we strive to ensure that they feel supported and that they belong by offering a variety of resources to support them during their time at Holy Cross. At Jesuit colleges, there is a Latin phrase used to describe our approach to student formation: cura personalis, which means care of the whole person. While this phrase has taken on different meanings depending on the setting, we use it intentionally to convey to students that we care about their development in mind, body, spirit, and community. Cura personalis shapes our approach to first-generation student support, too. Some examples include our pre-orientation programs like the Odyssey Program, through which first-gen, Pell-eligible, and/or students of color benefit from mentoring and retreats; the College’s First-Gen Alumni Network that connects first-generation students with our first-generation alumni for career mentoring; the student-run organization, HCF1RST Scholars, that serves as both a resource and a mechanism for for student belonging and inclusion; and the HCF1RST Mentor Network of faculty and staff willing to serve as on-campus mentors for first-generation students. Through these opportunities and more, we provide fora for community-building, mentorship, reflective practices, mindfulness and wellness, and academic support in ways that are specifically geared towards the unique needs of first-generation students.

This spring, we at Holy Cross had the honor of inducting 123 students into Alpha Alpha Alpha, the national honor society for first-generation college students, in an inaugural ceremony. It was a beautiful ceremony, with students and their friends, faculty, and staff supporters celebrating their accomplishments and achievements. In this ceremony, we likened our inductees to trailblazers, opening up opportunities for themselves and others. In this sense, they have worked towards what Jesuit colleges refer to as the magis, which means pursuing “more” for the betterment of others. While blazing a trail for themselves and in their families, they have also contributed to creating an environment conducive to success for others. And that is something we can all celebrate.

For more information on College of the Holy Cross' approach, please visit their website here.