FirstVU, Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Questbridge host First-Generation Appreciation Week

Programming included a first-generation graduate student panel, digital scavenger hunt, first-generation book discussion and social events.


Alexa White

Graphic depicting the celebration of a first-gen college student graduating from Vanderbilt University. (Hustler Multimedia/Alexa White)

Jenny Yang, Staff Writer

Vanderbilt’s Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion partnered with FirstVU and QuestBridge Vanderbilt to celebrate first-generation students from Nov. 3-11 through events designed to provide space for first-gen students to network and learn more about campus resources. Programming included a first-gen graduate student panel, digital scavenger hunt, first-gen book discussion and social events—including a “paint-and-sip session.” This year marks the second-annual celebration of First-Generation Appreciation Week which centers around National First-Generation College Celebration Day on Nov. 8, per sophomore and FirstVU vice president Suhaah Nadir.  

Vanderbilt defines first-generation students as those from families in which neither parent has earned a four-year undergraduate degree. Because these students are among the first in their family to attend college and cannot seek college advice from their parents, many first-gens face challenges while navigating college life, per Nadir. 

FirstVU, a student-run organization whose mission is to support, celebrate and empower first-generation students at Vanderbilt, hosts a variety of events each year in honor of National First-Generation Day, including free headshot sessions, LinkedIn workshops and panels about study abroad programs—which are typically held in the spring. 

“Every year, on November 8th, we like to highlight the hard work and persistence of this community because we see our identity as strength rather than frailty,” Nadir said.

The week’s programming began with the “Graduating First-Gen and Becoming a Graduate Student: First Generation Student” panel on Nov. 3. First-year PhD student Destiny Wiley-Yancy, a speaker on the panel, encouraged first-gen students to pursue a graduate education and explained how her experiences as a first-gen have motivated her to serve as a role model for others.

“Going through undergrad first-gen was kind of difficult, so as a grad student, I have made a very intentional effort to connect with other first-gen grad students because I know how important community is to me and my success,” Wiley-Yancy said. “It is also very important to me to be a role model for other students so that you can do well in undergrad and pursue graduate studies if that is something you are interested in.”

Wiley-Yancy praised the university’s efforts at the undergraduate level to provide support for first-gen students, but called for more first-gen resources to be provided to graduate students as well. 

“Being a first year grad student, I am not sure what resources exist at the grad level for first-year students. I know that there are orgs for undergrads, but I would be interested for Vanderbilt to identify more resources at the grad level,” Wiley-Yancy said.

In honor of National First-Generation College Celebration Day, FirstVU partnered with Vanderbilt’s Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and QuestBridge to provide free t-shirts, food and information sessions at the Multicultural Community Space. First-year Eden Villanueva said she heard about the programming from FirstVU and wants to continue her involvement in the first-gen community on campus. 

“I really like the FirstVU community because they really do help and put out a lot of effort and time to make sure first-gens know all the resources like mental health and financial help,” Villanueva said. 

First-year Ella Weaverling similarly expressed gratitude for FirstVU and the week’s programming. She explained that the main struggle of being a first-generation college student is having to navigate college without much guidance from her family. 

“I think they [FirstVU] are definitely trying to expand and find more resources for first-gen students,” Weaverling said. “I think it is really good that they are sending out emails and letting us know what is going on.”

Nadir said that the organization prioritizes creating a sense of community among its members year-round. FirstVU bonding events this semester have included ice skating, group dinners and game nights. 

“Every year, first-generation students from all over the world arrive at Vanderbilt. However, they often lack the family support, resources, and mentorship necessary to navigate the socioeconomic and academic hurdles at this institution,” Nadir said. “The goal of FirstVU is simple: we want our first-gen students to feel empowered and provide them with the resources needed to achieve their goals without feeling alone in the process.”