Community, Features, Impact

First-gen students offer perspective on Newbury Center and President Brown’s legacy

As a final wish from President Robert Brown, a first-generation college graduate himself, the percentage of first-gen students on Boston University’s campus is greater than ever. But with that rise in population, students said resources are high in demand.

Students in the Newbury Center, which provides resources for first-generation Boston University students and staff. President Robert Brown started various projects to increase the percentage of first-gen students at BU and provide them with resources. ANGIE YE/DFP STAFF

According to President Brown’s announcement on Sept. 7, the class of 2026 is made up of “25% first-generation students, and 33% underrepresented minority students.”

In conjunction with the 2030 Strategic Plan Brown oversaw during his term, BU established the Newbury Center, which officially opened in January 2021, to provide resources and host professional and personal development workshops for first-gen students.

Genesis Velasco, a junior in the Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation and president of the First-Generation Low Income Partnership, said FLIP — a student-run club that works closely with the Newbury Center in building community, advocating and providing resources for first-gen students — have begun to recognize the scarcity of resources at the center.

“The Newbury Center is amazing, but again, you’re putting all of this pressure and expectations on the Newbury Center that has three full time professional staff,” Velasco said.

To increase further support for first-gen students, Velasco said FLIP makes sure BU has resources in financial aid, housing, the Center for Career Development and textbook costs.

But, unlike other first-gen student organizations at large universities who get thousands of dollars for programming, FLIP only gets about $250, she said.

“I don’t think they’ve done anything other than the Newbury Center and they expect the Newbury Center to have (adequate resources),” Velasco said.

Velasco said she had a “first-generation dinner” with former Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore and Brown to talk about first-gen issues. However, Velasco said she would only appreciate a roundtable discussion with administrators as long as there is “100% the intention of talking about first-gen students.”

“If I’m being honest…it was mainly (Elmore and Brown) talking the whole time where we didn’t feel like our voices were heard or anything productive about first-gen students were discussed,” Velasco said.

With the rise in the population of first-gen students, Maria Erb, the inaugural director of the Newbury Center, said it is natural for there to be an increased demand for resources with the increase in the number of first-gen students.

“We’ve just seen a remarkable growth because students are sharing the good news and the good word about the support and resources that they receive from the Newbury Center,” she said.

As part of their strategic plan, Erb said the center is regularly busy with students coming in to study and build “close-knit” communities to help find their “sense of belonging.”

“As a result of that success, it means that we’ve outgrown our space, it means that we do need more staff to be able to assist our students in navigating BU,” Erb said.

BU Spokesperson Colin Riley said that many of the resources now available for first-gen students didn’t exist several years ago.

“Under President Brown’s direction, (we) have for many years sought to address what had previously been the inability to meet the full financial need of domestic students,” Riley said. “And to expand that to increase underrepresented minorities…who would benefit from a Boston University education. So it’s been a goal. They achieved it.”

Curille McKenna, a second year master’s student in the School of Public Health and student staff member at the Newbury Center, said that she has recognized more involvement in events at the Newbury Center partially because COVID-19 restrictions have been dropped.

“So it’s still kind of balancing what we as a center could do with our capacity as well as what the students want,” McKenna said. “I do think we offer a lot and Boston University offers a lot in general, but it’s still like trying to find that balance post-COVID.”

Kat Quach, a junior in the College of Communications and a student staff member at the Newbury Center, said that wanting to be a “diverse institution,” as BU and other universities claim, isn’t the same as being “equitable.”

“If you want more first-gen students to be attending school, why is it so difficult to contact financial aid?” she said. “Why is it so difficult to get more scholarship money?”

Riley said all students need “counseling” and “support” to navigate the college experience, and BU provides resources.

“There’s wonderful advising here at BU, for all students, not just first-gen, but just knowing to take advantage of that and to be very self motivated to reach out to faculty members, if you’re struggling…so that you can find someone who might mentor you and guide you when you have questions,” Riley said.

Quach said that she has also recognized the director being busier than last year and increased foot traffic in the office.

“People are really coming out of the woodworks and realizing that we are an asset to them,” Quach said. “But I do think that obviously we have like spatial limitations. The center itself isn’t that big.”

However, Quach said she’s “really grateful” for the Newbury Center because of the resources it provides.

“I say it as a half joke all the time, but I think if I didn’t get the job here, if I didn’t have this as a resource, I probably would have literally dropped out, like gone home in the first three weeks of school because it got really tough, really fast,” Quach said. “But I think what I wish was that there was just more tangible help on the university’s end.”

Minna Ito, a second year master’s student in Sargent and a student staff member at the Newbury Center, said that she “hopes the university continues to support and provide resources for the Newbury Center” as it continues to grow.

“I feel like it’s a call to action from the institution, that there’s definitely a need to support first-gen and marginalized students on campus,” they said. “And I think they should continue pouring their resources into this space because it obviously has had really positive impacts on students’ experiences.”


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