GSProud week celebrates first-generation and low-income Hoyas

This week marked the Georgetown Scholars Program’s (GSP’s) fifth-annual GSProud campaign, an initiative dedicated to celebrating first-generation and low-income students on the Hilltop and building allyship on campus.

Highlights included a kick-off dinner and a screening of the film Unlikely, which explores the forces complicating low-income students’ access to higher education and follows five students working to complete their degree. On Thursday, 60+ students, alumni, faculty, and staff attended the campaign’s keynote event of the week featuring powerful speeches on the experiences of first-generation and low-income Hoyas by Mastering the Hidden Curriculum professor Marcia Chatelain, Ph.D.; GSP alumna Queen Adesuyi (C’16); and current GSP students Hashwinder Singh (C’20) and Derrick Arthur-Cudjoe (N’19).

Building allyship

To set the stage for GSProud week, Andria Wisler, executive director of the Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching, and Service (CSJ), and Jason Low, a 2017 graduate of Georgetown College and assistant director of GSP, on March 15 published an op-ed in The Hoya urging the Georgetown community to view the campaign as “an opportunity for all members of our community to commit to the collective movement of a whole-institution approach to equity and to student flourishing.”

Too often, Wisler and Low write, elite universities put the burden on low-income and first-generation college students to educate those around them about their life realities and advocate for needed reforms. Wisler and Low outline three ways that students, faculty, staff, and administrators can converge to work toward a more inclusive, more equitable Georgetown University.

Creating a sense of belonging

Evidence shows that first-generation students do not experience a strong sense of belonging on college campuses. As the GSProud campaign reinforces, Georgetown’s first-generation and low-income students make crucial contributions—both visible and invisible—on the Hilltop. “They enrich classroom dialogues, lend their energies as student leaders, and uplift those around them through acts of service,” Wisler and Low write, calling on every department and individual to take responsibility for the formation of all Hoyas in order to truly “live out the Jesuit value of community in diversity.”

Addressing financial barriers beyond tuition

“We all know that there are hidden and overt costs to college living, whether that’s owning a winter coat or having a [SmarTrip card] to pay for transportation to and from an internship,” Wisler and Low write. They urge the university community—including every campus unit and student organization—to “audi[t] its policies for barriers that prevent first-generation students from engaging fully with Georgetown.”

Video: How Georgetown University works to make college accessible and affordable >

Reframing the dialogue

Finally, Wisler and Low call on the university community to recognize—and quash—the tendency to frame the backgrounds of first-generation and low-income students as “problems” to be solved or fixed. “Allyship is a lifelong practice of building relationships that are grounded in trust, consistency, and accountability,” they write, adding that “we must move towards a Georgetown community that doesn’t simply ‘include’ first-generation and low-income students, but rather dynamically and dramatically transforms by virtue and value of their incomparable presence and engagement—by their belonging.”

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