HHMI grant sponsors initiative to highlight first-gen student experience

From conferences to celebrations, Oglethorpe proudly supports first-generation students and actively seeks ways to improve the first-generation experience. The university recently invited “Out of Hand” to create an open dialogue between faculty, staff and students by putting on a short play from a first-generation student perspective. The event was made possible through a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) grantOut of Hand logo

Out of Hand’s program “Equitable Dinners” brings together people from diverse backgrounds to discuss complex issues, like race, over a meal fueled by theater. It combines art, information, and conversation to create positive action in communities.

Seventy-five members of the OU community gathered in Lupton Auditorium to watch a one-woman play by Out of Hand actress Jeilianne Vásquez. Vásquez portrays a first-gen student attending office hours seeking help from her professor, which turns into her expressing confusion about what student services are available to her and admitting the obstacles she faces as a first-gen student.

Students and faculty conversing at a table before the Equitable Dinners program begins.

Facilitators from Out of Hand guided the conversation between students, faculty, and staff.

After the moving and emotional play, attendees were invited to have open and honest conversations about what they saw in small groups. Students had the opportunity to reflect and share with faculty and staff what they related to and how the university can better support them. They also collectively discussed ways to create a more inclusive Oglethorpe community.

Citlalli Gervacio ’24 enjoyed sharing her perspective and hearing what professors struggle with when it comes to supporting students in and outside the classroom.

“Having an open and candid discussion with faculty and staff was helpful as a first-generation student because knowing professors are willing to learn and take on many issues from hearing students fortified my appreciation for the professors and encouraged me to try to continue to interact with them more as well,” said the biology major.

The event organizers provided guiding questions to students and faculty during these conversations on the first-gen experience. Attendees were also given resources and information to apply in the larger Oglethorpe community.

Senior Lecturer of Core Studies and First-Year Seminar professor Dr. Kathryn Marsden found the experience powerful because of its potential to begin conversations that should be had.

“I think the Equitable Dinners experience reflects the importance of our First Year Seminar initiative. While I’m a first-generation college grad, this occasion to connect with other faculty, staff, and students increased my knowledge of others’ experiences. That makes me more knowledgeable about the ‘unwritten curriculum’ that can be the difference between learning, growing, feeling a sense of belonging — in other words, thriving — and suffering in silence.”

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