Rosanna Reyes spoke about increasing accessibility to higher education for first-generation students on Thursday, Feb. 16, at 7 p.m. in the Quigley Hall Auditorium. The lecture was part of the lecture series hosted by the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access and Social Justice Center.
Each guest speaker in the series represents one part of the IDEAS acronym. Reyes is the third speaker and focused on “access.”
“With access comes this myriad of things here on our campus for our various populations,” said Darnell Epps, associate director of the IDEAS center.
Reyes is the associate dean and dean of First-Generation Initiatives at Williams College. She is responsible for organizing programs for and supporting the success of first-generation students at Williams College.
Epps said that although Williams and Allegheny Colleges are different in many ways, they do have a lot of similarities. He said that the talk is about finding the best practices and best ways to support each student.
“We can find ways to help support each other,” Epps said. “It’s very presumptuous to assume that all students have what they need to be successful.”
Reyes’ lecture titled, “From Theory to Practice: Engaging First-Generation Students,” focused specifically on the accessibility of higher education for first-generation students.
“Access isn’t just bringing people here — it’s what do you do when you have everyone here,” justin adkins, associate dean and director of the IDEAS Center, said. “This is the work that all of us have to do. Join us in this work. Take some of the things you learn here tonight and help us create more access at Allegheny.”
Reyes began by talking about growing up in a Latino culture, where being around family and helping out is something that was normal for her. She said that a lot of pressure is put on college students to leave their families behind when coming to college, but Reyes does not want students to feel like they cannot be themselves.
“For me, leaving the nest, taking an exit on the turnpike was huge,” Reyes said. “My family is my core. For me, my work is personal.”
Reyes said that her mentors in college changed her life and discussed the disconnect between herself and her family that she experienced when she went to college.
“I learned to communicate with my family in different ways,” Reyes said. “Be honest with your family, but they might not know what you’re talking about.”
She emphasized the importance of forming a personal connection with students.
“In order to be authentic and do good work, you have to understand where students are coming from,” Reyes said. “Just getting them on campus is not going to be enough.”
Reyes said that the responsibility of an entire institution to ensure the success of first-generation college students. Reyes said that before she arrived at Williams College, the majority of first generation students were just getting by and not thriving at the school.
“Part of what I took on was really creating visibility on campus,” Reyes said. “No-one wanted to talk about being first-[generation]. It was seen as something negative, as something deficient.”
Reyes said she focused on programming in a more holistic way.
“I had to build trust,” Reyes said. “It’s not going to happen overnight, obviously.”
Some of the initiatives and programs Reyes organized included a first-generation pre-orientation program to help first-generation students adjust to college. The program is largely student-led by selected orientation leaders and works to set the tone for the students’ time at Williams. Another focus of the orientation program is to inform, educate and include families.
“Engaging families, from an institutional standpoint is really critical. It takes a huge burden off the student,” Reyes said.