First Forward week celebrates first-generation students, staff, and faculty

Katie Samek – Staff Writer

First Forward Month is here at Gustavus, with several events planned for the next few weeks.

Members of First Forward planned to table outside of the Caf for the last week of April, both to increase awareness about the other First Forward events as well as to provide opportunities for first-generation students to engage with club members.

First Forward is an annual event held in April that celebrates what is known as first-generation college students: students who are the first in their families to go to college. Created, initiated, and hosted yearly by the Center for Inclusive Excellence, this event displays the concentrated effort made by Gustavus to provide sustained and intentional support for first-generation student scholars as they navigate college life at Gustavus.

A formal dinner was hosted by First Forward on Wednesday, April 26, in the Center for Inclusive Excellence, located in the downstairs wing of the Jackson Campus Center near the Center for Career Development. All first-generation students, as well as first-gen staff, faculty, and allies, were invited to attend. Information about the dinner and other First Forward events was sent out in a school-wide email Tuesday. Posters for these events are also located in several areas around campus.

“Our goal is for first-gen individuals to meet others like them”, said Kareem Watts, Assistant Director for the CIE. “It also provides them with an opportunity to see the great amount of support they have on campus, both from their peers and their professors.”

First Forward will also be the focus of this month’s Lyrical Cafe held on Friday, April 28th at 6:00 p.m., located in the CIE. This month’s theme is “First Gen Love”, and all students are welcome to attend and perform. There will also be two special musical guests from the Twin Cities present at this event: TJ-2Braidz and ShaVunda Brown.

“First Forward was initiated by the CIE to really provide students with… we’ll say intentional support”, Watts said. “Intentional support to develop first-gen networks, and so, we usually have it once a year, around April, that’s First Forward month.”

The CIE isn’t the only organization on campus affiliated with First Forward, however – there is also a strong community of first-gen students that assist in organizing, hosting, and spreading the word to their fellow first-generation peers.

“First Forward allowed me to find a community of first-generation students”, first-generation and Senior Brian Contreras said. “I was meeting a lot of new people that I didn’t know were first-generation students, so it was kind of cool in that sense.”

“You build a community,” Watts said. “I think it also helps increase a sense of belonging as well for first-gen students. Especially with it being their first time in a college institution, where they might feel like the only one. So definitely some community, networking, social engagement, and then resources as well, so we can make sure first-gen students are aware of the resources available on campus.”

One opportunity that may be of interest among the many resources available for first-generation students at Gustavus is a specialized scholarship offered by First Forward that pays for course textbooks and other class materials via Slingshot.

“Yeah, there’s scholarships if you’re doing Slingshot,” Contreras said. “With that scholarship you get your books covered, so if you’re having a financial situation back home, or you’re a person of color, you can come to the CIE and apply to the scholarship.”

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