Multicultural Engagement Center hosts first-generation college student panel

Wesley Story

The Multicultural Engagement Center hosted an open-panel discussion with first-generation college students on Saturday.

The panel focused on students’ experiences on the 40 Acres and how they’ve made UT their home. The panel was open to all UT students and their families as part of Family Weekend events.

The student panelists talked about pressures faced by first-generation students and the challenges they’ve had finding their own identities while also maintaining a relationship with their families.

Kristian Byrd, civil engineering senior and one of the student panelists, said that her freshman year a lot of her classmates had parents who were already engineers and she felt she didn’t have anyone to turn to for help.

“It’s harder for us sometimes,” Byrd said. “Students who’ve had parents that went to college can talk to them about their experiences, but when you don’t have that person to go back to it’s confusing and your self esteem can go down.”

The student panelists also discussed ways they are involved on campus and how the communities they are a part of have shaped their experiences. 

All of the panelists were members of one of the six student-run agencies housed within the MEC, among which include Afrikan-American Affairs, Queer People of Color and Allies, and Students for Equity and Diversity. 

MEC Assistant Director Tony Vo said that while the MEC doesn’t exist primarily for first-generation college students, there is a positive correlation between first-generation students and race and cultural identities. Many of these students think of the MEC as their “home away from home.”

“For parents that didn’t go to college or a university here in the states, it’s an enigma,” Vo said. “It’s as overwhelming for them as it is for their students. Students who aren’t used to such a big campus need a place where they can go and feel that they belong.”

Vo said that Texas Parents reached out to him about organizing the event.

“I think that with the changing demographics of UT, they felt that Family Weekend wasn’t just for the traditional families that usually come,” Vo said.

Morgane Le Marchand, coordinator for Family Weekend and assistant director of communication for Texas Parents, said Family Weekend is an opportunity for families to see campus through their students’ eyes and also gives parents the chance to familiarize themselves with the campus.

“When students need help, they tend to turn to their parents for direction,” Marchand said. “By learning about the resources available at UT, parents and families are better able to support their students’ success.”