First Gen at Whitman

I grew up in Walla Walla, so I have been aware of Whitman College’s existence for most of my life. I can remember going through campus as a small child, and being enchanted by the wandering ducks, bold squirrels, and many tall trees. However, for a variety of reasons, I did not think that being a student at this college would ever be a possibility.

Neither of my parents hold college degrees, and throughout high school, college seemed like some sort of impossible dream that was for well-to-do people who had a plan and knowledgeable people to advise them. Despite this, I was still determined to make attending college a possibility. Throughout my junior and senior year of high school, I visited various colleges throughout Washington, including Whitman. I was really drawn to the small class sizes that Whitman offered as well as the accessibility of professors and various faculty I had interacted with during the times I had visited campus. I did not, however, think that Whitman would be the college I would attend, given the cost of tuition. However, on a particularly cloudy day last January, I turned in all my college applications, including one to Whitman. I was horribly nervous, and couldn’t help thinking that the financial aid might not be good enough at any of the schools I applied to and I wouldn’t be able to go anywhere.

The financial aid did turn out to be good enough; Whitman gave me enough aid that it was possible for me make up the rest of the cost with outside scholarships and work study, and so I accepted their offer of admission. Beyond the financial aid, I had heard only good things about Whitman from the graduates I had met in Walla Walla, and I knew that I wanted to attend a small college that had the friendly atmosphere that I had experienced while on campus.

Soon afterwards, I was sent a brochure in the mail inviting me to attend the Whitman Summer Fly- in Program, which pays the cost for admitted first generation working-class students to stay on campus for several days and learn more about various aspects of the college experience as well as meet other first year students with the same background. I decided to attend this program, which ended up being one of the best decisions I have made since coming to Whitman. Before this program, it never occurred to me that being a first generation student meant that there were also other students like me, who often had common struggles and could support each other. At the end of the fly-in, I felt like I could find my way around campus and knew where to go if I needed help. I had also made friends with other students before ever arriving on campus in the fall, which made the first few weeks at Whitman much less stressful.

When classes started in the fall, I was also invited to be a part of the First Generation Working-Class (FGWC) Club, which is made up of students that come from first gen or working class backgrounds. It was and has been enormously reassuring to find a supportive group of students that experienced the same difficulties that I had, but were still flourishing, successful, and involved in so many different parts of the campus. The Intercultural Center, the part of the administration that works with this club, has also been very supportive to first gen students at Whitman. From organizing fun events for students who couldn’t travel home during Thanksgiving break, to recently creating a food bank so that students staying over Spring Break wouldn’t go hungry, I have felt enormously supported as a first gen student at Whitman. Most recently, there has also been an art exhibit in the Reid Campus Center showing messages from first gen students that promote FGWC identities on campus. I am very grateful for all those at Whitman who have been involved with supporting its first generation working-class students and making the College a place where they are welcomed and can thrive.

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