In my city, this is synonymous with just (prospective) college student. Most of my peers' parents did not go to college, so this aspect of my identity was so obvious that it went unnoticed. To be college-bound mostly meant that we were going to go to the local state schools. This is not to discredit the achievement of getting into one of these schools; going to college is going to college, regardless of the status or prestige of the school. And so, as much as I felt college-bound, statistically speaking, the odds were not in my favor. Yet, all of this changed when I received a scholarship to go to an elite prep school in Los Angeles.
After creating this association, I also worked with faculty and administrators to create a summer bridge program for first-generation students. The bridge program was meant to help 8th graders transition from their grade schools to the high school. We helped them unpack their first-generation identities as well as give them the language to express their lived experiences. We walked them through AP classes, standardized tests, and advising. The students also visited three universities: a public, private, and religiously-affiliated college. All of this was created at my high school, yet Harvard did not have any of these resources.
During my first year, I quickly sought out the First-Generation Student Union. I made friends with the leadership and attended the events religiously. I was asked to join as freshman representative late in the Fall of my first semester. After three months, the general elections happened, and I uncontestedly won the presidency. Five days later, the Crimson released an article saying that Dean Khurana had rejected a pre-orientation program for first-generation, low-income students. Being blindsided by the news, my Vice-President, Charity Barros, and I quickly worked to understand the situation. We had countless meetings over the next month (as seen by the timeline) and developed an action plan to get the program passed. During this time, I felt that I was doing tremendously important work, yet I felt myself growing bitter. Instead of a partnership with administrators, I felt like they stood in my way of achieving progress. The unpaid student labor was real, and I felt tired. Yet, I could not stop. Many students were counting on FGSU to get this program up and running. I felt myself lose my status as a student and gain the title of pseudo administrator.
After the approval of the program in June, I continued to work on the new pre-orientation program through my sophomore year. In specific, I had weekly meetings with Katie Steele in the fall and with the steering committee in the Spring to make sure the program was being developed and we did not lose momentum. As I continued to focus on this program, I, again, felt my position as a student to diminish. I focused on my on-campus jobs, FGSU, and this pre-orientation program more than my academics. This focus should have changed, but I felt that I had an obligation to my partnership with administrators. This program, although not student-run, had to be student-driven, and I was in too deep and too passionate to stop leading it.
As a first-generation student, especially one at Harvard, it is difficult to say no. Whether it is the sense of pride that comes from being trusted by administrators or the love for my community, I felt that I had an obligation to continue working on FYRE. At this institution, students face this paradox where we want administrators to do more of the work yet do not trust them enough to do it themselves. Had I felt confident in the administration’s ability to develop this program, I would not have been as actively involved as I was. It is difficult to pinpoint where this culture of mistrust towards administrators comes from, but I know this needs to change.
Now, this role does come with the responsibility of doing my part of making this place a better place, but that should not come at the sacrifice of my mental health or my academics. Also, as a student leader, it is important to know when to be the leader at the forefront of a cause and when to instead empower the younger waves of students to continue the movement to constantly challenge Harvard to do better and be better.
This needs to change not just because true partnerships are more effective. This needs to change because we are students before we are anything else. This university did not accept me to be an administrator, but rather, it accepted me to be a student of the college.