The First-Generation Student Union, an organization started this semester, aims to build a community where students who are the first in their families to go to college can support and share resources with one another.
Trista Beard, the associate director of the Norman Topping Student Aid Fund and club advisor, began brainstorming the idea with fellow faculty on the First-Generation Task Force and students over the summer.
“There’s a lot that we could do across the University where we have thousands of first-generation students here at USC,” Beard said. “Talking with other staff and faculty that are involved with the first-generation task force, knowing there is student interest, I went to the staff and faculty and said, ‘I think this could take off as part of the First-Gen Task Force — let’s make this one of our initiatives, to have a student club.’ When I talked to some students about being the leaders and getting this thing started, there was a lot of interest.”
Beard — who is the first in her family to go to college — added that the club is modeled after Harvard’s first-generation student group. She said a lot of the issues that go along with being a first-generation student at an Ivy League school are echoed at USC.
“That all rings true here, where we’re at an elite private school and, on the surface, it looks like there’s a lot of wealth and privilege and knowledge everywhere,” Beard said. “But there are students where that isn’t their background.”
Beard said that the FGSU is a way for first-generation students to find each other, which is sometimes hard to do.
“They are the first in their families to go to college, which is an amazing achievement,” Beard said. “How do we bring that up and talk about it in a positive light as a community? The first-gen club is a way to do that. It’s a way to be together as a community and talk about the challenges and successes of being the first in your family to go to college. It’s a way to give visibility to a hidden identity — we don’t talk about class — we don’t wear it on our sleeves.”
Marilyn Rodriguez, a senior majoring in human biology and one of the club’s student leaders, said in an email to the Daily Trojan that she wanted to start the club because many first-generation students at USC have a hard time navigating the school, and she felt that a supportive community would help that.
“More often than not, most first-generation college students do not have a network of people that can assist them with developing skills that will help them excel at this institution,” Rodriguez wrote. “By creating this community, we hope to unite all first-generation students on campus both at the undergraduate and graduate level, to aid them through their transition by having workshops, mentors, providing a safe space to express their opinions and to become a single voice to advocate for first-generation student needs at USC.”
Beard added that she hopes she will help facilitate student leadership in the club, rather than take on a leading role herself. She expressed a desire to hear student voices and see programming resulting from a decision-making process that is ultimately student-driven.
“I’m there as a coordinator and to help in any way I can, but the students have ideas of how we build community. We want to have the services that some other scholarship programs bring in, but focus it on first-gen.”
The first mixer of the FGSU will take place at 6 p.m. in SGM 124 on Thursday, Oct. 6.