Argus Wesleyan | The First Things First summer orientation engages FGLI students

c / o Adam Cyzner, collaborating photographer

First Things First (FTF), an orientation program run by the Resource Center and Office of Equity and Inclusion for low-income first generation students (FGLI), ran from Tuesday 6 July to Friday July 30. Demetrius Colvin Resource Center, Dean of Equity, Inclusion and Academic Success April Ruiz, and FTF intern Elizabeth Ouanemalay ’23 organized this year’s program. Around 50 students, including 10 Orientation Leaders (OLs) and around 40 new freshmen participated in the program, which was open to both synchronous and asynchronous participants.

The FTF program aims to help FGLI students adjust to campus life by introducing them to university services, guiding them through their studies and transition to college, and creating support systems through the constitution. of cohorts. FTF also includes a number of personal conversations about identity at the University, a predominantly white and wealthy institution. While most of the conversations were recorded for future viewing, the more intimate dialogues were not recorded in an attempt to promote a more open and safe space.

For Ouanemalay, conversations about identity and the program in general help paint a holistic picture of life at the University.

“It’s not really meant to be this super comprehensive guide because I think there’s a lot of excitement when you start your freshman year,” Ouanemalay said. “You’re not really going to remember all the little details. One of FTF’s missions was to give this overview and meaning more than anything [that] when the time comes [students will] know there is a resource for them and they might not remember what it is, but they will know, “oh, there’s probably a resource out there. “

FTF participant Aisha Odetunde ’25 stressed the importance of safe program dialogues and mentioned that the FTF program promotes the general well-being of FGLI students.

“[FTF is] a space with different resources to help not only our college life but also our mental health, physical health, personal care and other resources that we can access if we need help balancing our lives in some way way, ”said Odetunde. “It’s a space where you can feel yourself, feel connected with people [in a way] that you couldn’t do at first. It’s a space where I can feel vulnerable and I won’t be attacked by it.

In previous years, FTF was only open to students who met strict criteria set by the University. This year, however, the program has expanded to include all FGLI students.

“Before this year, it was only by invitation, but we also found that there were people who did not meet the original criteria given to us by admissions; there are always the individual circumstances of people, ”Colvin said. “Let’s say someone’s mother went to nursing school, technically this student is not the first generation, but they have a low income, and it’s not because there is a certain level of education that the program will not help them. “

Because the program was virtual and open to more students, more early years were able to participate, including international students from the FGLI.

“In the past, [FTF] would have coincided with ISO, so that was also something good, ”said Ouanemalay. “I think by having it online we really got a demographics that we haven’t been able to get in the past.”

Going forward, Colvin and Ruiz are implementing a new series of one-year programs called FTF Next Steps for FGLI students. The aim is to provide FGLI students with additional support, connections and tools. The program seeks to foster a greater sense of community through a series of events, each addressing a specific topic. FTF Next Steps programs for fall 2021 will run throughout the semester and will include topics such as academic life at Wes’s, navigating classism, FGLI and family, building your academic path, and navigating. at the end of the quarter. More information on the next steps of the FTF and its events can be found on the Resource Center Facebook account.

“Maybe you are thinking of some of the themes we have been talking about this summer [during FTF orientation] in a different way because they land in a more real way, and maybe you have more specific concerns or more specific questions, ”Ruiz said. “Or maybe, now that you’re living it, you understand some dimensions of it that you didn’t understand when we first spoke to you in July. So now let’s come back to these topics in a different way and dig a little deeper [through FTF Next Steps]. “

According to Odetunde, one of the strengths of this year’s program was that it brought in a number of different voices, each representing different student organizations.

“Different weeks they added new people for different webinars,” Odetunde said. “Last week they brought in people from the financial aid office and they also brought in people from the SHAPE, Title IX offices, or [people] in different programs or different clubs. One of them was [about] people of color in athletics, so like my [OL] was on the WSA. Different people contributed different things and then explained more about it if anyone was interested.

Last year, FTF operated for six weeks. This year’s shorter four-week program had a specific theme for each week: Welcome to University, Academics, Social Life and Looking to the Future.

The planning process began at the start of the spring 2021 semester when Ruiz was hired as the University’s Dean for Academic Equity, Inclusion and Achievement. Ruiz, who has facilitated similar programs in different institutions, worked closely with Colvin and Ouanemalay. While Colvin primarily worked with FTF LOs and promoted community building as well as social and emotional well-being content, Ruiz worked on adjacent academic programs, assessment projects and other logistics and communications. Ouanemalay and other campus colleagues provided input from the students. In addition, Ouanemalay participated in the OL hiring process, acted as a resource person for questions and programming and fulfilled various roles.

Colvin, Ruiz and Ouanemalay prioritized comments from previous years in creating this year’s program. For example, after students from last year’s FTF program indicated that six weeks was too long, they condensed the program to make it easier for participants to participate. Additionally, FTF was slated to be virtual independent of COVID-19 to bypass any potential planning or health issues. Ouanemalay said she believes the asynchronous nature of the event helped avoid accessibility issues.

“We could also accommodate people who didn’t really have an internet connection to do so, so they could watch the material at their own pace and get a feel for the program without feeling like they always had to have internet bandwidth. perfect or like good bandwidth ”says Ouanemalay.

Ruiz and Colvin are currently reflecting on this year’s FTF program to make revisions for years to come.

“We are entering a period where now a lot of in-depth thinking and reading of the comments is going to occur,” Ruiz said. “We have a lot of notes that we’ve taken over time. Demetrius, Elizabeth and I had just met constantly. So we were taking those notes in real time when we could see them again with fresh eyes, so we’re going to start getting into all of that planning for next summer.

Ouanemalay spoke of FTF’s continued value even now that formal programming is over.

“After working with FTF, I like everyone,” Ouanemalay said. “I have worked it with the students, faculty, faculty and staff, because I think it can be very overwhelming to be in this type of environment… where there is such privilege and elitism, and j feel like you are always trying to find a sense of yourself. I have found that in Wesleyan sometimes we need to have a certain type of language or understanding, and these things are not really you say up front I think that’s why it’s important to have a community where people understand where you’re from and to some extent are able to help you articulate things more easily.

Oliver Cope can be reached at [email protected].

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