Prentice Jones ’24 spent most of her childhood in Los Angeles. At first, New York and Barnard did not feel to her like an obvious fit. A chance meeting with a famous Columbia University alum helped clarify her direction.
“I met James Franco. Our conversation was short but unforgettable. He wished me luck, and at that moment, New York City stole my heart,” said Jones, a first-generation student and computer science major. But it was her attendance at Barnard’s Summer in the City Pre-College program that sealed the deal for her
“From discussing topics like voyeurism in Hitchcock’s Rear Window to engaging in conversations about the Democratic debate with friends from Sulzberger Hall, I had never felt more intellectually stimulated than I did at Barnard,” she said. Jones navigated her college application process and her time at Barnard as a first-generation student, an identity she claims with pride.
“For me, being the first in my family to attend college is not just a personal achievement but a testament to the power of asking for help and seeking opportunities,” said Jones.
Ariana Banez ’27 is also the first in her family to attend college. She grew up in El Paso, Texas, and decided, even before the first day of classes, to bring her home and culture with her to Barnard.
During this year’s summer pre-orientation, she stated her intention to form a mariachi band. The result is the Mariachi Leones de Columbia, which has played at several campus events at Barnard and Columbia.
“The term ‘first-gen’ signifies my family’s progress toward the next big dream,” said Banez. “It is an honor to represent the years of work that my family has put in to get me to the point where I am now.”
Terrah Garner ’27, who came from Orlando, Florida, echoed Banez. “Being a first-gen is a great opportunity to broaden perspectives and advocate for others. It’s also an opportunity to honor my family’s sacrifices.”
This fall, her first semester at Barnard, she was accepted to the Athena Incubator cohort. Her business concept is focused on helping low-income students with their financial aid appeals, something she is passionate about. “The reason I applied to Barnard was because of Access Barnard’s resources,” said Garner.
Access Barnard is the College’s resource center dedicated to supporting first-generation students, students who identify as low-income, and international students. At its heart, Access Barnard is a hub for connection and inspiration.
For Jemima Gedeon, Barnard’s director of First-Generation Student Initiatives at Access Barnard, celebrating first-generation students on November 8th — and every day — is vital.
“[First-generation] is an invisible identity, and students should feel supported,” said Gedeon. She recently initiated a campus-wide visual campaign featuring posters and cards with the message “I am first-gen. Let’s chat.”
“I’m really jazzed about it,” said Gedeon. “[First-generation] students need to know of others that were first-gen grads. How nourishing that is for them and their sense of belongingness at Barnard. It sends such a good message to the FLI [First-Generation Student Initiatives] community.” The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Gedeon was also the first in her family to attend college. She graduated from New York University in 2006.
“One thing my parents made explicit to us was that we were going to college. We were breaking the cycle,” said Gedeon. At Barnard, she draws inspiration from witnessing first-generation students gradually build their confidence. “I love to see FLI students take up space because sometimes they’re afraid to do that because of imposter syndrome. I tell them, ‘Take up space. Your stories matter. Get out and do it,’” said Gedeon.
For the National First-Generation Student Day, Barnard will host FLI Legacy Night, a party for all of the firsts on campus and another important opportunity to encourage and celebrate these pathbreaking students. That evening, Banez and her now-thriving mariachi band will provide the entertainment and fulfill one of the central goals of her college career at Barnard — to “take up space” in her own way.
“I’m determined to leave a lasting impact through the mariachi group I initiated. Mariachi has been a profound influence in my life, and my mission is to cultivate this love for the genre and share it with the wider community,” said Banez. “This affirms the importance of our culture in a prestigious institution like [Barnard]/Columbia, and I’m here to represent that pride.”