On Oct. 5 the University of Dallas Office of Student Affairs, in collaboration with the student council, approved a new club that will serve first-generation college students at UD.
The new club, First Generation Student Association, seeks “to provide students with resources to assist in success as a first-generation college student, to provide a community of student support [and] to celebrate the student’s status as a first-generation student,” according to the club’s constitution.
First Generation Student Association President and co-founder Natalie Villafranca said that first-generation college students often feel isolated from their peers.
“The thing about being a first-gen student is that you feel like you are the only one who doesn’t know what you are doing,” said Villafranca, a senior biology major. “I really do think that having a first-gen club is important because there are so many first-gen students [at UD]. It’s important for them to have a community of people who have the same experiences or who are going through the same thing.”
The number of first-generation college students at UD is on the rise, claiming 20% of the class of 2024, according to a University News article from Sept. 2.
The association is the latest in a series of steps to embrace first-generation college students. When UD president Dr. Thomas Hibbs was inaugurated in 2019, he announced that he and his wife, Dr. Stacy Hibbs, would endow a scholarship for first-generation students at UD. As a first-generation student and UD alumnus himself, Hibbs personally addressed first-generation students before their first year at UD.
In the summer of 2020, the Constantine foundation, which offers scholarships to first-generation students at UD, accepted its first first-generation student cohort, according to the UD website. In conjunction with this $750,00 grant, the university sponsors a first-generation mentorship program, which aims to provide first-generation college students with support and community.
Villafranca said that the First Generation Student Association will be distinct from the efforts organized through the university, although their missions are compatible.
“The First Generation Student Association would be entirely different, since it’s student-run, and not run by the university’s offices,” said Villafranca. “That grant is eventually going to run out, but the club is student-run and will hopefully continue after BeLynn [Hollers] and I graduate.”
Senior politics major and First-Generation Club vice president BeLynn Hollers said she and the other club leaders are building the club “from the ground up.”
“The goal of the First Generation Student Association is to really facilitate community,” said Hollers. The club will host scholarship panels, events with first-generation faculty members, and plans to host inductions for first-generation students after their first full year at UD.
Hollers said that, although they will have various events to provide students with tangible resources, building community is the club’s first priority.
“Yes, we want to do those scholarship workshops, like we’re doing next week, we want to do resources for students, but we also just want it to be something where you are able to connect with other people,” said Hollers. “Our goal, really, is to facilitate more of a community between first-gen students, because it is in those conversations that you can realize, oh, yeah, I’ve gone through that.”
First Generation Student Association Treasurer Jazmin Gudino said that she hopes this community can provide resources and a sense of community that she feels was lacking at the beginning of her own college experience.
“Looking back there’s so much that I know now that I didn’t back then,” said Gudino. “I always wished I had a resource or resources that weren’t just fancy talk or super academic, but something more authentic and that I could actually understand.”
Hollers echoed her desire to provide first-generation students with the resources they need to succeed, drawing from her own experiences as a first-generation student.
“I didn’t really have anyone in my life who could tell me, what was the dorm like? Or, how do you study for an exam? These were the kinds of things that I didn’t have anyone in my immediate family that I could talk to about,” said Hollers.
Villafranca added that many college students may be afraid to ask for these resources.
“A lot of people feel like asking for help is a sign of weakness,” she said. “The First Generation Student Association will hopefully encourage first-gen students and help them see that there are students on campus who are going through the same thing.”
Note: Mia Samaniego contributed to the creation of this article.