On Wednesday, Sept. 18, Wellesley’s First Generation Network held its annual Welcome Dinner for students and faculty belonging to the first generation college community. The First Gen Network, which was founded in 2012, aims to build peer resources, a network of mentees and mentors and socio-economic inclusion on campus. Towards the end of the Welcome Dinner, students were given the opportunity to sign up for dates to have dinner with upper level administration, such as Dean Horton, who is the Dean of Students.
“The reason I found out [about the dinner sign ups] was because I was invited to the annual First Generation Welcome Dinner event, where I met other first gen students and faculty and had the chance to sign up for dinner with Dean Bate and Dean Horton,” recalled Hesper Khong ’23 who attended the first dinner with administration. The Welcome Dinner held at the start of the semester is an event that the First Gen Network has put on annually since 2012. However, the dinner series with the deans is a new program being implemented by Dean Horton in an effort to connect with the first gen community.
Téofilo Barbalho, one of the First Generation Network Coordinators, explained that “an incident that happened last semester led us to understand that first gen students didn’t feel supported.” In an effort to combat this, Dean Horton wanted to host dinners for students to express any concerns they might have and to give them a chance to get to know her better.
Barbalho added that if at the dinners, “all the students are having issues with something then that needs to be addressed … this information will be relayed back to the First Gen Network [from the deans].” Barbalho believes that the dinners the deans are hosting will add a more personal connection as opposed to simply letting students fill out a form for feedback. He added that it is “not just dinner and call it a day … there will be action.”
However, some students have expressed concern about the role of upper level administration in the first gen community. A junior who chose to be anonymous stated “I actually have not gone to any of the dinners after the welcome one. This is mainly because I have been busy. That being said, I definitely think that there was some clear contention within the welcome [dinner], in terms of messaging to first gen students. The messages given by the administration and the FGN [First Gen Network] were very different ones. It seemed almost as if the FGN and coordinators were trying to celebrate the achievements and struggles of FG students (how it should have been), while the two administrators [Johnson and Horton] presented their speeches as a ‘be thankful because we didn’t have those resources when we were your age’ type of thing.”
Karina Alvarado ’20 noted that the first gen dinners are different from the resources that were offered first generation students when she started here at Wellesley. “In the time that I have been in Wellesley, the first-gen network has not had something like the first-gen dinner series,” she said. “Normally, it’s in an informal setting where students talk to others about how they’re doing or sometimes there has been an administrator present and the conversation is brought up.” She also said that there are specific administrators who have been helpful to first gen students. “It’s mainly been Dean Garcia who students talk about how they’re adjusting and if they’re having any issues. “