Cherwell

Oxford First-Generation students launch Alumni Community

Oxford First-Generation students have launched an Alumni Community, which aims to bring together former, first-generation students to inspire and enable current and prospective undergraduates.

The group already has over 70 members a week since the launch. Many have expressed interest online in mentoring current first-generation undergraduates, giving talks at the University, and offering work experience.

“First-gen” students are those who are “the first in their family to go to university”. The group is also for the student who “feels they do not have the same educational privileges as someone whose parents went to university in the traditional sense.”

A spokesperson for the group, Jack Nunn, told Cherwell: “Our alumni campaign is all about creating a sense of community and showing that first-gen students not only exist at Oxford, but succeed in all kinds of careers and fields.

“There is no typical ‘first-gen’ student and our alumni members who have signed up so far reflect this.

“Amongst the first-gen alumni, there are PhD students, teachers, lecturers, lawyers and scientists. Most importantly, they all share a common background and have overcome similar barriers.”

One of the first alumni sign-ups, Becky Shaw Simms, came up to Oxford in 1996 and read Geography at Mansfield College. Although she stayed in the local area after graduation, she has never been involved in any Oxford alumni groups before.

Simms heard about the Community over Twitter.

Speaking to Cherwell, she said: “When I was at Oxford there were Target Schools programs and all kinds of outreach, but of course the world is a very different place now – in 1995 when I was applying, there was no social media, very little internet usage, no smartphones etc, so the networks that today’s young people benefit from didn’t exist. If there was a First Gen group in 1995, I’m not sure how I’d have known about it!

“I was the first person in my family to finish school with qualifications of any sort, brought up by a single parent in local authority accommodation.

“However I was bright at school, knew I loved my subject, and was lucky enough to have a Head of Geography at school who was able to get beyond the assumption that Oxford was only for ‘posh kids’.

“More often than not, historically, the reason bright people from state schools, BME communities and disadvantaged communities haven’t been represented at Oxford is that they’ve not applied to Oxford in the first place – either because their school hasn’t encouraged them (or has actively discouraged them!) or their peers have put them off.

“Or (frankly) they’ve been put off by endless Oxbridge-bashing in the media that perpetuates the myth that Oxbridge is Brideshead Revisited, with a homogenous population of people who are white and middle class and educated at private school and if you’re not, you won’t ‘fit in’.

“Sadly the journalists at the Guardian et. al. don’t care to look at the statistics from Colleges like Mansfield where over 90% of undergrads last year were from state school backgrounds.”

Alongside the Alumni Community, Oxford First Generation Students will be putting on pizza nights, socials, and ‘informal formals’ for incoming freshers.

The Oxford SU Class Act campaign has also recently introduced a ‘Family’ scheme, which aims to group students from different years together who are from first generation, low income, or working class backgrounds.