Collage of candid photos of Wellesley's first gen student leaders.
On Saturday, November 5, MIT will host the 10th Anniversary Class Action First Gen Summit. Three Wellesley students are serving on the Summit Student Planning Committee.
Image credit: Jamie Motley (photos) & Ping Ji (design)

First Gen Summit 2022: A Day By and For First-Generation Students

E.B. Bartels '10
November 2, 2022

On Saturday, November 5, MIT will host the 10th Anniversary Class Action First Gen Summit. Wellesley College is among the sponsors of this year’s summit and has the most representation on the Student Planning Committee; as committee member Laila Rouhi ’25 said, “Wellesley has an incredible first-gen community.” 

“The summit is an essential event for first-gen students,” said Jocelyn Rodriguez ’24, who was also on the committee, working on design and marketing. “We don’t have as many networking opportunities as people with parents who attended institutions, and here you get to network with people who share that part of your identity.” Registration for the summit, which has both in-person and virtual components, closed on October 28, but interested students can still follow the highlights of the day via the Class Action Instagram account

Rouhi said it can be difficult to talk about coming from a first-gen or working class background and that students can feel guilt or embarrassment bringing up the subject. “I want everyone to know there will be no judgment at the first-gen summit,” said Rouhi. “No one should ever experience any shame over their socioeconomic status or being different from peers, because difference is what makes you so special. Everyone has a story, and that story is important.”

“No one should ever experience any shame over their socioeconomic status or being different from peers, because difference is what makes you so special. Everyone has a story, and that story is important.”

Laila Rouhi ’25

Rodriguez, Rouhi, and Shayla Zamora ’23 have been working to help plan the summit since the spring. “As someone who is first-gen and loves planning events, I thought, yup, this is for me,” said Zamora. Via Zoom, Rodriguez, Rouhi, and Zamora met with the other members of the planning committee, who come from colleges all over the Northeast: New York University, Boston University, Brandeis University, Colby College, Monmouth University, and Salem State University. 

Rouhi said she has found it especially rewarding to become close to a diverse range of students and compare their first gen-experiences: “Everyone is first-gen or low income, but they come from such different schools, different backgrounds.” 

The summit is intended to promote that kind of meeting and networking, on an even larger scale. “As a first-year and a first-gen student, it can be really hard to find spaces where you feel like you belong,” said Zamora. “The summit was a space created especially for these students. All the workshops were designed by and for first-gen students.” As workshop content co-leads, Zamora and Emmanuel (Manny) Quiroz Martinez, a graduate student at Salem State, have curated the day’s speakers and workshops. Jonathan Allen, co-founder and director of development at Leadership Brainery and a first-gen student himself, will be the summit’s keynote speaker. 

Wellesley’s own Jamie D. Motley, the Anne Shen Chao ’74 Director of Student Success, served on the summit’s Faculty, Staff, Administrator Advisory Council and will lead a workshop on first-gen retreat planning. She said an enormous amount of behind-the-scenes work goes into planning an event like the summit, and into building community among first-gen and low income students on a daily basis. 

For example, at Wellesley, the Office of Student Success (OSS) has eight student leaders who Motley said play a “vital role” in the creation of that community at the College. They are all first-gen and/or low-income students themselves and previously participated in the WellesleyPlus program, which supports first-years and helps them adjust to College life. Mikhaela Andersonn ’23, Bella Perreira ’24, Lequinn Pettway ’25, Josie Ramirez ’24, and Kiya Watson ’25 are Near-Peer Mentors to the current WellesleyPlus student cohort. Savanna Gray ’23 and Jivonsha Ffrench ’24 were WellesleyPlus mentors last year, but this year are serving as student events co-coordinators, helping plan FLI (First Gen/Low Income) Network events, while Andrea Covey ’23 manages the FLI Network social media accounts and helps out with their events. “I am very proud of my student leaders for their dedication to uplifting their FLI sibs and building community here at Wellesley,” said Motley.

Pettway loves being a WellesleyPlus Near-Peer Mentor this year to be able to pay forward the help she got as a first-year. She said her mentors helped her figure out how to apply for and get things she “would never have even known to ask for.” Pettway loves seeing her mentees around campus. “I just want them to know I’m always here for them, and I try to be as approachable as possible,” said Pettway. First-gen or low-income students understand each other’s experiences, explained Pettway, like looking for inexpensive warm clothes to get through New England winters, being torn between majoring in something you love or something that guarantees you a solid income, or having to decide between paying for a weekend activity or laundry. “There is so much more to consider on a day-to-day basis, especially with money,” said Pettway.

The summit strives to give students the spaces to have these kinds of conversations all day long. “The summit is not just a professional setting, but a community setting and a place to make friends,” said Rodriguez. She and her fellow organizers hope the friendships and connections made on November 5 will carry on long past that one day. “You’re always going to be first-gen,” said Zamora. “You’re not just going to be a first-gen when you apply to college, or once you get into college. You’re still going to be first-gen when you’re going to grad school, getting your first professional job, etc. etc. Wellesley has allowed me to experiment and grow my skills to be a first-gen student. But I definitely think that I’m still growing, and the things I will learn at the summit are going to serve me in the future.”