University of Delaware Celebrates National First-Generation Day
Michelle Bailey, University of Delaware / The Center / December 11, 2023
November 8th was National First-Generation Day, and the University of Delaware (UD) celebrated its first-generation students with a week of social and educational programming. We’re First, the undergraduate student organization for first-generation students, hosted two educational events that connected students with various departments and resources on campus. An Autumn Picnic event was also held for students who participate in a peer mentorship program specifically designed for first-generation students.
The signature event of the week was the National First-Generation Celebration Day Luncheon, held on Wednesday, November 8th. The luncheon was held in UD’s new Center for Intercultural Engagement, a space on campus dedicated to supporting minoritized students in higher education, including first-generation students. The event featured a catered lunch, contests and games, photo booth, free giveaways, and a keynote speaker. Over 100 students were in attendance.
The highlight of the event was a keynote address delivered by Robin-Renee Allbritton, M.Ed., UD’s Assistant Director of Intercultural Student Engagement. A first-generation student herself, Allbritton relayed her own story to the audience, weaving together her personal experiences and advice for current students. Allbritton’s address emphasized the unique diversity of first-generation students, noting that they come from a variety of backgrounds and identities. She also praised the “resilience and resistance” of first-generation students, recounting the obstacles she herself overcame in college—obstacles that were often the result of institutional cultures within higher education that didn’t always recognize or make space for first-generation students. Allbritton underscored this point by stating, “We are university unicorns. We exist beyond the imaginations of [higher education] institutions because they never really know what we bring to campus in our magical suitcases.” This sentiment echoes an increasing shift toward examining institutional assumptions about first-generation students, in which first-gen students have either been unseen or seen through a deficit lens (see Garriott, 2019; Ilett, 2019; Ives & Castillo-Montoya, 2020).
This luncheon symbolized a formal recognition of the first-generation student experience to many students in attendance. First-generation student, Chelsea Cohen (’24), described the event, and particularly Allbritton’s address, as “really inspirational.” She further explains, “National First-Generation Day and the week of events that ensued at the [Center for Intercultural Engagement] were great because I got to see how many people are on this journey at UD with me, and even see those who were on this journey, graduated, and went on to do even bigger and better things… I’m thankful to be a part of such a wonderful community that not only supports first-generation students academically, but emotionally and professionally as well.”
Dyhia Hammadi (’24), president of We’re First, also found the support from the university meaningful, stating, “One of the things that stood out the most was seeing and chatting with [professional] staff from all different departments. Seeing how they all showed up and how much they care for the first-generation community is very comforting and an amazing reminder of all the support and resources we have here at UD.”
We are university unicorns. We exist beyond the imaginations of [higher education] institutions because they never really know what we bring to campus in our magical suitcases.
The luncheon was sponsored by multiple offices, departments, and student groups, including the Office of Institutional Equity, Division of Student Life, Student Diversity & Inclusion, the Graduate College, and We’re First. Representatives from various departments on campus, such as Library, Museums, and Press; the Career Center; and the Undergraduate Research Program and McNair Scholars programs, attended the event to interact with first-generation students and promote the resources that their departments provide.
National First-Generation Day celebration events are only a small part of UD’s programming and support for first-generation students. 13% of UD’s undergraduate student population is first-generation. The university has launched a number of initiatives to promote first-gen student success, including the establishment of a first-generation student success committee, a peer mentorship program, the creation of a graduate assistant position dedicated to first-generation student support and programming, and the We’re First student group. These types of institutional supports are important for first-generation students as they navigate complex, and often counterintuitive, processes such as financial aid, course registration, internship applications, and more. UD is proud to recognize the strength of these trailblazers and remains committed to supporting their success. To read more about the National First-Generation Day events and other first-generation student supports at UD, see this article.
Garriott, P. O. (2020). A critical cultural wealth model of first-generation and economically marginalized college students’ academic and career development. Journal of Career Development, 47(1), 80-95. https://doi.org/10.1177/0894845319826266
Ilett, D. (2019). A critical review of LIS literature on first-generation students. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 19(1), 177-196. https://doi.org/10.1353/pla.2019.0009
Ives, J., & Castillo-Montoya, M. (2020). First-generation college students as academic learners: A systematic review. Review of Educational Research, 90(2), 139-178. https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654319899707