Councilwoman-elect Valdivia-Alcala speaks to first-generation students

One of many: A Washburn student signs a banner expressing support for first-generation Washburn students. Many faculty, staff, and students were given the opportunity to do so thanks to We Are F1rst.

Jackson Woods

The first-generation college experience is easier for some than others, and the We Are F1rst student organization wants people to know that important figures in their community have experienced struggles at college as well.

Councilwoman-elect Christina Valdivia Alcala was invited to speak at the student organization’s Nov. 6 meeting. She shared her story about how she came to Washburn University and talked about her college experience. She considers herself to be first generation in multiple ways.

While she is a second-generation Topekan on her father’s side, she is a first-generation Topekan on her mother’s side. Her parent’s ancestors were Mexican and she searched for how she related to that identity for much of her life. This is because, despite this ancestry, she was pressured to assimilate into the US, including being raised to not speak Spanish.

Even though she struggled in high school, she was encouraged to go to college by her mother and become a first-generation college student. After graduating from high school, she went to Wichita State University, but did not have the support structure there to help her. Groups that we have at Washburn now like HALO and We Are F1rst did not exist then.

She did not give up though. She became a nontraditional student at Washburn starting in 1990 as a parent. She was a history major in an environment where all her professors were white. Her professors were not people whom she was able to tell what she was dealing with as a college student.

After all her hard work, including challenging work on oral histories from women, she was able to walk at graduation. Unfortunately, she later found out she was one class short of receiving her degree and did not go back and complete it.

Savannah Rodriguez is the president of We Are F1rst and was one of the organizers of this event.

“We want people to know there’s not only one path you can take,” said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez is a sophomore transfer student in her first semester at Washburn, and is double-majoring in political science and religious studies. She was recruited to be president of We Are F1rst by Graciela Berumen, the first-generation retention specialist at Washburn. Rodriguez had talked to academic advising about what she could do to be a part of the Washburn community, and they told Berumen about her interest. Berumen was Rodriguez’s WU101 teacher, and recognized her leadership skills that could be put to use in the student organization.

Members of We Are F1rst promoted the event through tabling in the union, and made a banner that people could sign to express support for first-generation students. Free pizza was shared at the event.

Valdivia-Alcala places a lot of value on being connected with her community, and believes that everyone should make connections with people who share mindsets. Valdvia-Alcala commented on what she would tell her college self so that students could hear her advice.

“Unity is crucial. Unity between brown, black and white,” said Valdivia-Alcala. “Demand change from your government, because it’s past time for asking.”

Edited by Jada Johnson, Adam White, Jessica Galvin