UNLV celebrates first-generation population on campus

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Skye Calhoun (right) speaks to students at UNLV's National First Generation Day Celebration at Pida Plaza on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023. The event is part of First Gen Week. (Scarlet & Gray Free Press/Shainna Alipon)

The Intersection hosted “We Belong! First-Gen Strong! National First-Generation Day Celebration” on Nov. 8 at Pida Plaza as part of UNLV’s First Gen Week.

A DJ and various booths celebrated first-generation students as well as first-generation faculty and staff. Departments like the Academic Success Center, the University Libraries and even a booth for Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto gave free merchandise at the event.

A first-generation student is someone whose parents did not complete a four-year college or university degree and is the first in their family to attend university. Harriet Barlow, executive director of The Intersection, stated that nearly 60% of UNLV’s undergraduate and graduate population are first-generation students.

“A family can support but not understand their students’ college experience,” Barlow said.

The Intersection mainly supports the racial minority first-gen population on campus. To further celebrate and support them, Barlow came up with the idea to have an entire week dedicated to first-gens. First Gen Week has been celebrated at UNLV since 2019, only two years after The Intersection’s birth in 2017.

“The students said they wanted more support for first-gens, so that’s why The Intersection was made,” said Barlow.

Skye Calhoun, peer mentor at The Intersection and manning their booth at the event, said National First-Generation Day is to celebrate and be proud of where a first-gen student comes from. Being first-gen often becomes part of one’s identity, and they should take pride in taking the first step through the door.

“It’s hard out here,” said Calhoun simply.

First Gen Week is a collaboration between many departments on campus that have services to support first-gens. Throughout the week, departments and colleges hosted events to celebrate and give networking opportunities for first-gen students. 

The week ended with a symposium of different speakers and a panel discussion. Newly hired Jose Melendrez, interim vice president of diversity initiatives and chief diversity officer, as well as President Keith Whitfield, introduced the symposium. Free breakfast and lunch were offered at the event.

At the symposium, Barlow showed off UNLV’s dedication to first-gen students. UNLV is a First Scholars Network Member, which holds universities to specific standards and requires events when it comes to supporting first-generation students. She also spoke of UNLV’s first-gen advisory board made up of students, faculty and staff. The university currently has about 200 first-gen faculty and staff. The number continues to grow as people reach out to her about wanting to be a part of the first-gen faculty and staff directory.

Evelin Levya Herrera and Krystal Flores, both third-year first-gen students, said that university was a big shock, and UNLV’s resources helped them understand how college worked.

“UNLV has a big first-gen community, and I feel very supported here,” said Flores.
For more information and support for first-gen students, visit https://www.unlv.edu/first-generation. The first-gen faculty and staff directory can also be found here. The Intersection’s office can be found on the first floor of the Student Union.

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