‘I’m First’ photo project features first-generation students

Readers explore narratives of first-generation students paired with photos taken by Susie Paul ’16 and Hudson DeBorba ’18. Jerry Li/Photo Editor.
Readers explore narratives of first-generation students paired with photos taken by Susie Paul ’16 and Hudson DeBorba ’18. Jerry Li/Photo Editor.

Last Friday at 5:30 p.m., the First Generation Advisory Board with Associate Dean and Dean of First Generation Initiatives Rosanna Reyes hosted a reception on the first floor of Sawyer Library for its “I’m First” photo project.

The photos, which will be displayed in first floor Sawyer for the next two weeks and were taken and compiled by Susie Paul ’16 and Hudson DeBorba ’18, feature students who are the first in their families to attend a four-year college and include statements by the students about their experiences as first generation students. The photos and accompanying statements will also be available online in the next coming weeks, as the project’s goal, according to Reyes, is “to have as many First Gen narratives digitally displayed on various platforms.” Both the dean and the advisory board hope for this project to be continued annually.

The reception began with introductions from Reyes and Shanice Scantlebury ’15, member of the First Generation Advisory Board, followed by three first generation student speakers. Brian Benitez ’18 spoke about his family’s experience with poverty and his transition to the College this past year. Sarah Ritzmann ’17 followed Benitez, speaking about coming to identify as first generation and understanding what the label means to her. Nakita VanBiene ’15, the final speaker, discussed the disconnect she often feels between herself and her parents as well as her gratitude for the way they raised her and her hopes for post-College life.

“The students who spoke at the reception shared their familial backgrounds and all highlighted how supportive their families have been,” Reyes said, also noting in her remarks that the speakers were chosen to represent both a diversity of class years and a diversity of first generation experiences.

Attendees, many of whom were featured in the photo project, were then invited to enjoy some refreshments from Lickety Split and A-Frame Bakery and continue to look at the photos more closely.

“This project is special to me because it allows the broader Williams community to hear the voices of individuals they may not have known to be first generation,” Reyes said. “It was great to have those in attendance at the reception learn a bit more about the diversity in the lived experiences of the first generation community at Williams. Overall, the project has been really well received and I am looking forward to launching the long-term virtual project within the next couple of weeks. I am excited to engage first gen alums and also more faculty and staff at the College who were first to go to college.”