First Generation Identity and Community
VHEC’s AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) program, which falls under Vermont Campus Compact, focuses on improving college access and success for first generation, low-income, and underrepresented students in Vermont. VHEC currently has eight 2017-18 VISTA members serving in a variety of offices at six different campuses around Vermont.
Written by Jullie Moche. Jullie is currently serving as the AmeriCorps VISTA member at Middlebury College's Anderson Freeman Resource Center. Photos taken by Silvia Cantu Bautista.
When I started my service, I felt assured the experience would be an opportunity for me to give others what I received on my own journey through higher education. I come from a low income family, I am a first generation college graduate, and a first generation immigrant. Even though it was very difficult for me to gain access to higher education, others gave me the support, knowledge, and resources I needed to achieve my goals. Serving at Middlebury College’s Anderson Freeman Resource Center, better known as the AFC, is conducive to who I am and what I want to support in my work. The AFC “supports students from historically underrepresented backgrounds with programs, services and spaces to guide all aspects of academic, social, personal, and communal life.” Serving as a VISTA in a space similar to my own experiences is, simply put, my higher education success coming full circle.
The AFC is a space where students can speak freely about their challenges and experiences of identifying with an underrepresented group. It’s also a place where students can gain insight on how to solve financial issues, get support with their mental health from counselors, or meditate in the meditation room. My service entails connecting campus offices with the AFC to collaborate on initiatives for the students we serve. In addition, I provide tools they can access outside of the AFC and use beyond their college experience, as well as make the AFC a streamlined resource.
In my service thus far, I’ve found myself conversing with students that come to the AFC, and delving into conversations about academics, identity, community, and life as a first generation student. The moments we share are enriching to the soul, and help us more deeply understand the human experience. The Anderson Freeman Resource Center is truly a community of staff and students that support one another in all aspects, not just academically. It’s a safe space that promotes understanding, supports students, and a place to come and eat food you only have when you’re at home.
On one occasion I was sitting in the staff office and one of the students in the room stopped all of us and said, “Here’s my sunshine of the day.” She let us know that her mother got her citizenship after years of fighting to get it. We all started getting choked up since each one of us understood what she was going through. She further explained, “Most people want to be 21 so that they can drink and party. I just wanted to be 21 so that I could sponsor my parent’s citizenship.” Her sunshine moment brought a flood of memories and feelings. When I was in my second year of college, my mother was detained by ICE. It was the most terrifying moment of my college experience. It’s difficult as a student to watch your family struggle while you are away in college. The community we have at the Anderson Freeman Center has shared so many parallel experiences. We strive to show each person that comes through the AFC that they are not alone in their struggles. We do our best to equip them with practical tools they can use to successfully navigate their time at Middlebury College and beyond.
I continue to serve the AFC with a growing sense of pride and joy in the students I am supporting and the staff I work alongside. They support me every day in ways they don’t realize, and I hope to do the same for them by equipping them with knowledge, academic tools and emotional support. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect place to serve in my year of being a VISTA, and for that I am grateful.