Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

Aisha Abdelhamid and Avery Robinson - Story of Us

The First-Year Retreat and Experience (FYRE) is a pre-orientation program within Harvard’s Dean of Students Office serving first-generation, low-income, underrepresented (FGLI/UR) incoming first-year students. Its purpose and mission lie in creating a community of first-years who gain the social, agency, navigational, and academic capital to acclimate themselves to and belong at Harvard. Beginning in 2018 but institutionalized in 2019, it has served over 300 Harvard undergraduates.

FYRE began with the First-Generation Student Union (now known as PRIMUS) acknowledging that there was a gap in students’ experiences and struggles at the College due to their socioeconomic background. After months of work, the pre-orientation was officially established as a pilot in fall of 2017, with a director, two co-chairs, and 6 steering committee members. FYRE officially began in summer of 2018, welcoming 100 FGLI/UR students in the class of 2022 through a 3-day long program. After the 2019 cohort, FYRE was institutionalized by the College and became a fully-funded pre-orientation program, extended to a 5-day structure.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, FYRE 2020 was run virtually but was able to welcome 127 first-years to Harvard. This upcoming year, FYRE will be expanded to welcome 160 incoming FGLI/UR first-years with a staff of 32 Team Leaders, 4 Steering Committee members, 2 Co-Chairs and 1 director. The director acts as a liaison between FYRE student leadership and administration and advises FYRE co-chairs in building the program. The co-chairs and steering committee collaborate to formulate FYRE programming and build relationships with campus offices and organizations. The team leaders are paired to lead a family of 10 FYREflies, fostering a close-knit community for support and advice.

This year’s program, just like previous years, will (1) introduce them to FYRE Team Leaders, FGLI/UR professors, faculty, and alumni, (2) accustom FYREflies to offices such as OCS, SEO, CAMHS, FY Librarians, FAO, ARC, and AEO, and (3) give them advice on finances, social life, and academics. The crowning jewel of FYRE is FYRE Family Time, an intimate space shared within the FYRE families that explores the struggles and successes of FGLI/UR students before and during their Harvard experience.

The FYRE program had much success in its nascent years, increasing the confidence of incoming first-years in navigating Harvard and developing relationships with faculty and staff on campus. However, with an average of 250+ applicants every year, and even more FGLI/UR students that never apply to FYRE, there are still dozens, if not hundreds, of FGLI/UR first-years who do not reap the direct benefits of being a FYREfly. According to the Pulse Survey, there is also a disproportionately low sense of belonging among those whose parents have lower levels of education. These circumstances raise the question of how FYRE can be infrastructurally changed to increase FGLI/UR student support during their transition into Harvard what steps need to be taken by student leaders and administrators to actualize these changes.

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