First Generation Seminars: The Power of a Shared Identity

Photo by John Moeses Bauan on Unsplash

First-Gen Seminars pairs first-generation faculty and students in a small, for-credit class environment where they share a common experience, foster a sense of belonging, and engage intellectual curiosity.

Jill G. Joseph, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., taught the First-Generation Seminar: Can Injustice Make You Sick? in Spring 2019. As one of three First-Gen Seminars that quarter, Dr. Joseph's class focused on how social circumstances, such as housing, education, employment, and other factors intersected with personal health. Drawing upon her own past experiences as a non-traditional and first-generation college student, Dr. Joseph encouraged students to also reflect on their own experiences as first-generation college students from diverse backgrounds through a course made especially for them.

Dr. Joseph started her journey first towards a Bachelor degree at 28, and then later a PhD, after a professor mentored her and made her excited about the world. Her unique background allowed her to see the world- and specifically healthcare- in a different, more equitable light. 

"Data shows that 70-80% of health in population is explained by social determinants, such as having adequate housing, employment, and even our school systems."

Dr. Jill Joseph
Jill G. Joseph, a professor emeritus at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.

As Dr. Joseph developed her curriculum, she wanted to foster an environment that welcomed different perspectives. She mentioned, "Some think health care is a right, others think it's a commodity. We have to understand why and how someone may think that." Due to the nature of the small class sizes within First-Year Seminars, Dr. Joseph's class was able to build that personal connection that made the students more comfortable to speak up and share alternative points of view. The shared identity of being a first-generation college student strengthened this connection. 

In addition to welcoming different perspectives, her curriculum allowed the student to reflect on their own experiences and choose their own articles to examine. This allowed the students to choose anything that interested them and find the intersections between that topic and healthcare. Other assignments included leading and partaking in-depth discussions about these articles and other health disparities, and a group presentation at the end.

"I want students to know that their different experiences are valued."

Beyond learning about the intersections between healthcare and social determinants, Dr. Joseph also wanted her students to gain confidence in their abilities as first-generation students. Thinking of her own mentor who pushed her into and through higher education, Dr. Joseph aimed to be this same mentor for these students and remind them that there are people around them that want them to succeed.

For more information on First-Generation FYS, please visit here.

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