Chapel Basement creates focus on first generation students

Many students have noticed the change of the Chapel Basement’s name from the Center for Service, Spirituality and Social Responsibility to the Center for Social Justice and Community Impact. However, not many students are aware of how this name change designates a change in the structure of the Chapel Basement’s programming.

The move has been mostly about restructuring the organization of the Chapel Basement, but new components have also been added to its mission. For instance, it has made social justice a more integral part of the mission, and while this section has been formally separated from religious life, the two components still coincide. “We have a more active focus on social justice work now, fostering equity, and going beyond just the stereotypical diversity programming,” said Alex Gim-Fain ’17, the Center’s AmeriCorps First Generation Program Development Vista Fellow.

Gim-Fain’s position in the Center is also new to the Chapel Basement’s organization. “My job is mostly developing programs, events and larger scale long-term programs for coming years for first-generation students,” said Gim-Fain. “First-generation students are a population that hasn’t been focused on before at Wheaton. They’re 20 percent of the population here, but their retention rate is [the] lowest demographic at Wheaton.” His goal is to develop programming to help forge connections with the first-generation students on campus and to encourage them to stay at Wheaton.

So far, Gim-Fain has been conducting research on ways to create such programming and to identify the needs of Wheaton’s first-generation student population. That research has already culminated in the planning of several events at the college. One of these events occurred recently, called First Generation Week. The week began with a kickoff event in Balfour featuring three former first-generation students, including Wheaton employee Steve Viveiros, who was able to give attendees a perspective of what being a first-generation student from an academic standpoint is like. “This event helped to shape what the idea of first-generation is, as it’s not necessarily a term everyone is familiar with. We had some great faculty attendance,” said Gim-Fain.

The week-long program also featured a spoken word performance from Roxy Azari ’10 about being a first-generation student. Gim-Fain hopes to continue the momentum from this week, to host an alumni of color panel soon and to conduct a first-generation-specific event at the upcoming conference for alumni of color. He also plans to screen movies and schedule local service trips for first-generation Wheaton students. “I really hope to host some focus groups of first-generation students and figure out what they want most in terms of programming,” said Gim-Faim of his wishes for the rest of the year.