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Beautiful view of campus from the Shattuck Observatory

I was recently a panelist at a Dartmouth event we call "Critical Dialogues." During this panel, four first generation and low-income (FGLI) students (including me) shared their perspectives on what being FGLI at Dartmouth (and during the college application process) means for them. I was so grateful to be a panelist at this event. I'm especially grateful that the audience was entirely faculty and staff. The purpose of the panel was to enlighten professors and other staff on what it truly means to be FGLI at an elite institution like Dartmouth. Not only did we get to share our experiences, but we offered advice to faculty and staff on what they could do to be our supporters through our college journey. Sitting in that chair with the spotlight shining right down on me helped me reflect.

Something that I mentioned to the audience, and something that I will mention to you first and foremost, is that the four of us as panelists looked and sounded very different. I'm a white, heterosexual man, and I will never know what it's like to be a racial minority. We come from different backgrounds, and we can all offer unique perspectives on what being an FGLI student means to each of us. There's no idealistic image of what an FGLI student is; Rather, it's the story of each individual student that really captures what that term means. Personally, I grew up in severe poverty. My parents don't make any money, and I've always struggled with financial security. I also had a pretty terrible family situation throughout my childhood. My parents struggled and continue to struggle with substance abuse on a daily basis. Those things bring complications that merely saying "I'm FGLI," doesn't capture. The student sitting on either side of me will have a completely different story, and that's the point I wanted to make.

I think there's a certain amount of responsibility as a student and as a professor or staff member to practice good communication with each other. The best piece of advice I've gotten in college so far was to approach each of my professors during the start of the term and introduce myself. It may only be a simple "Hey there professor, my name is Gavin, and I just wanted to introduce myself and say that I'm excited for the course." That opens the door for future vulnerability and the gateway for good communication in general. Expressing your concerns as an FGLI student isn't easy, but it's the student's responsibility to make that identity known to their professor if they want. Then, the responsibility rests with the professor. It's their turn to say, "Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing that will me. I can tell you may have extenuating circumstances, and I want to support you in any way that I can. What does that look like for you?"

It may seem a bit simple, but I think communication is more powerful than we all realize. Being on that panel helped me understand just how fortunate I am to have a platform of influence to speak on these sorts of issues at all. At another college, I would be swept up with the crowd just like a swath of sea foam in the middle of the Atlantic. Dartmouth gives me a voice, and I always plan to use it. I'm very grateful in that regard.

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