As a freshman identifying as a first-generation, low-income student, Sebastián González searched for a space at the University of Pennsylvania where he felt at home. After seeing a Facebook post advertising the Penn First Summit, a town hall for FGLI students on campus last year, his world changed.
At the Summit in the fall of 2016, González became increasingly passionate about FGLI issues and even ran for a board position at Penn First. He was elected internal outreach chair.
In that position, González, a sophomore majoring in physics in the School of Arts and Sciences, is responsible for strengthening campus connections.
“My goal is to create a clear line of communication between Penn First and other student-led groups on campus; administration, faculty and staff; and the FGLI program at the Greenfield Intercultural Center, in order to form collaborations and efficiently disseminate information to address the needs of the FGLI community,” says Gonzalez.
Another one of González’s duties is to plan and host the Penn First Summit each semester to amplify the organization’s voice.
Last month the fourth Penn First Summit was held in Huntsman Hall, welcoming students, staff and faculty who identify as FGLI or as an ally of the FGLI community.
“It allows those who are working on initiatives to address FGLI-related issues to receive direct input from students and to share existing programs or opportunities. It also gives students the chance to network,” González says. “There are many faculty members and staff who were once FGLI themselves and have a great deal of expertise on navigating college that would be especially useful for current students.”
During the Summit, the 25 participants were divided into four groups and tasked with outlining obstacles and generating possible solutions related to topics like finances and student financial services, pre-professional preparation and applying to graduate schools, social life at Penn and access to resources.
But, González says that what he finds really exciting is that the documentation and ideas that come out of the Summit actually end up on the desks of University leaders.
He says they reach out “to members of Penn’s administration to persuade them to enact change on our behalf. Past changes include the opening of the First-Generation/Low-Income Center in the Greenfield Intercultural Center and enhanced assistance for meals during breaks.”
A few suggestions submitted as a result of the latest Summit include shaping the definition of FGLI to establish a more inclusive environment, expanding the PennCAP Pre-Freshman Program, providing more access to basic necessities, paving pre-professional pathways for FGLI students and improved communication regarding opportunities for the FGLI community.
The goal, he says, is to make Penn an even more welcoming place for FGLI students.
González says the majority of FGLI students proudly acknowledge this identity, as it shapes their experiences, unique challenges and world views and enriches the Penn community. He says speaking up is key.
“Many times, people think we are ashamed of our FGLI status and would tend to avoid important conversations about the difficulties involved with the FGLI experience at Penn,” he says. “Those conversations, which can be difficult at times due to the intersection with socioeconomic issues we see in our country, are needed for the future improvement.”
Born and raised in predominantly Mexican-American El Paso, Texas, González attributes his humility and sense of responsibility to the influence of his hometown, his parents and his upbringing.
“I could not have asked for more hard-working and selfless parents, as they always made sure I had what I needed, no matter how much effort it would take on their end to provide it,” he says. “My parents made it clear to me early on that I was expected to earn a college degree because of the social mobility it would provide.”
He says when he thinks that he’s too tired to study for a mid-term, his conscience intervenes.
“I always think of my family back home because all their hard work is the reason why I get to attend an institution like Penn. I ought to do the best I possibly can to honor their sacrifices.”