By Ryan O’Connell, Arts & Features Editor
By Raena Doty, Asst. Arts & Features Editor
Students might recall seeing a banner signing in the McCarthy Lobby this fall for first-generation students.
Or one for veteran students.
Or one for students who are just proud to be themselves.
Or ones for all three!
The Fall 2022 Semester has seen banner signings for students of several different backgrounds, and given them chances to see themselves represented on campus in a physical way.
Some of these banners focused on recognizing students of specific groups, such as first-generation or veteran students, and were open to be signed by everyone.
Erin Gemme, a sophomore liberal studies major, organized the public signing of a “Proud to Be” banner in association with Student Government Association (SGA) Oct. 6.
Gemme is the SGA diversity and inclusion officer - appointed this September - and is responsible for one of several student-focused banner signings held during the Fall 2022 Semester.
They said in their position, they’re responsible for advocating for students and their needs on campus. They added recently they were especially proud of the changes made due to their advocacy, such as repainting the stair ledges next to Horace Mann Hall.
Gemme said they were the primary organizer of the signing, and chose the wording “Proud to Be” due to its open-endedness.
“The reason I made it so vague is because it could be, ‘I am proud to be a student,’ but it could also be, ‘I’m proud to be religious’ of any kind, it could be applying to race, sexual orientation, so it could have been anything,” they said.
Gemme added they chose a banner signing because it was a physical, tangible activity “to display our differences. … Honestly, I think that the differences are what make us so unique.”
They said they enjoyed watching the banner fill up with signatures, and that they could tell students were happy when they contributed their identity, because it was “something they’re proud of.”
Gemme said there were a lot of unique and interesting attributes on the banner, such as being proud to be a foster child, autistic, disabled, an honors student, an athlete, or even a Taylor Swift fan.
They added the hardest part was getting it started. “Actually, it was harder at the beginning than it was at the end,” they said. “I wrote a few things to get them started because it looked weird with nothing, but as it filled up, more people came.”
Gemme said their favorite part of the banner signing was seeing so many students they’d never met before at one time - and recruiting students to SGA.
They said they want to continue doing events that will support students, especially ones of specific identities. Gemme added SGA’s “Kindness Week” was a great example of student support, but also they wanted to host an event to benefit LGBT+ students next semester.
They said they also want to have the banner up for signing again in the spring because there’s more to add. “I wanted to have that reminder to myself and everyone that even though we’re all different, we’re all here, and that’s so important.”
Gemme said they want students to know SGA is “here for every single student,” not just for hearing complaints, but also students’ successes.
“I want people to know that with my position specifically, I am always a place for anybody,” they said. “That’s my biggest thing.”
LaDonna Bridges, dean of Student Success and director of CASA, organized a banner signing for first-generation college students as part of National First-Generation College Celebration
Two different banners were put out for signing: one for first generation students to declare their commitment to graduation, and one for professors to declare support of first-generation students.
Bridges said the banner signing was inspired by another school in a network called First-gen Forward, which “recognizes institutions that are committed to help first-generation college students succeed.
“I hope they took two things away. One, the organization supports them,” Bridges said. “Too often, we look at first-generation college students from a deficit standpoint or a deficit framework. ‘Oh, not prepared, don’t have this, don’t have that.’ And nothing could be further from the truth.
“And the other part was to kind of develop a sense of community among first-gen students to know that they're not the only ones who are here,” she said.
Bridges said the day of the banner signing was “so much fun.
“Faculty and staff could submit pictures of themselves when they were in college, and it was hysterical to have someone go, ‘Oh my gosh, your hair,’ or ‘Where did you get that outfit?’”
For the students, she said, “I just got this tremendous sense of appreciation from people, ‘Thank you for doing this. Thank you for acknowledging this group. Thank you for this opportunity.’
“There were light bulbs that you could see for some students. Like, ‘Oh my gosh, yeah, that’s what I am’ and ‘Can I have a T-shirt to wear?’” Bridges said.
Bridges said part of supporting first-generation college students is acknowledging “all identities, and all intersecting identities,” including the intersection of being a first-generation student and coming from low-income families.
“Not all first-generation students are low-income, nor do we want that to be the stereotype,” she said. But she said different parts of someone’s identity “all have to come together.
“They are no less qualified and no less able to be successful college students, but it can be exhausting to navigate all that you have to navigate on your own,” Bridges said.
“It is our responsibility as a state institution to educate Massachusetts residents and provide workforce for the commonwealth,” she said.
“We are trying to do more forward-facing things like [the banner signing],” Bridges said. “I know we can do more - we need to do more.”
She said students can help by becoming involved. “We would love to have them contact us and say, ‘I’d really love to be a part of this,’ and become part of an advisory group for us.”
She said the University will continue to support first-generation college students going into the future, and added FSU will start a chapter of a first-generation honors society called Alpha Alpha Alpha, which will be announced in the spring.
Philippe Raphael, a senior sociology major, helped facilitate an “I’m just me because…” banner signing Oct. 13 as an intern of the Chris Walsh Center for Educators and Families of MetroWest.
Raphael said he spent time at the table giving away brochures as well as encouraging students to enter a raffle for a chance to win the book, “The Identity-Conscious Educator” by Liza Talusan, which the center will be hosting a book discussion for in the spring. In addition, the author will be coming to campus to speak.
He said he mainly focused on educating students about the internships the Chris Walsh Center offered, and trying to encourage them to get involved in the future.
He said the banner was a recognition of different students’ unique attributes and identities. “I … told them to write on the poster what’s special about them? What do they like about themselves? What makes them feel special?”
Raphael said he really enjoyed the process of meeting students who were proud of themselves, and that the overall experience was great.
“It was a great movement, I truly enjoyed doing it, too,” he said. “I hope they’ve seen that, and I don’t know how much I could thank them for participating and being positive.”
Raphael added the Chris Walsh Center has been a great environment to work in, and it has a very positive impact on the community. He said he thinks the center can do even more for students if they have further opportunities to interact with them such as the banner signing.
“It’s a great community. Everyone is supportive of each other. We do a lot of great and amazing and fun work,” he said.
Raphael said his favorite part of the signing was just watching people standing at the table, smiling, feeling happy, as well as learning what people find special about themselves.
“That was the most beautiful part of it,” he said.