Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

Sarah Hwang: Creating Her Own Path as a First-Generation College Student

Sarah Hwang is a social justice superstar. She is proud of her identity as an AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) woman of color. When she saw a lack of representation of AAPI women in the reproductive justice movement, Sarah co-founded and co-organized a chapter of Planned Parenthood Generation Action on her campus. As co-president, she leads the chapter in advocating for reproductive justice and educating the community on issues of reproductive health and freedom.

A first-generation college student at a women’s college, Sarah believes that “being normal is vastly overrated.” She created her own major by combining her interests in Art History, International Relations and Politics. Sarah was also selected for the Reproductive Rights Activist Service Corps internship through the Civil Liberties and Public Policy program—she was one of only 40 students nationwide to be placed at a social justice internship this summer. Sarah’s success story is proof that with a little determination and a lot of hard work, you can incite the changes that you want to see in the world around you.

Name: Sarah Hwang 
Age: 20          
College: Mount Holyoke College      
Major: Art and Public Policy
Graduation Year: 2017
Hometown: East Meadow, New York
Instagram Handle: @sarahhwang95

Her Campus: How has attending an all-women’s college helped shape your goals?

Sarah Hwang: Attending a women’s college has given me the confidence to become a change maker. From the classroom environment, where the thought-provoking conversations are led by women, to the supportive faculty and peers, I am inspired everyday to challenge the status quo and norms of society. Women’s colleges encourage their students to actively voice their opinions and question the male-dominated world we live in, allowing students to develop and nurture the skills necessary to be effective leaders and trailblazers. It is not a surprise that women’s college graduates make up more than 20% of the women in Congress and represent 30% of the Businessweek list of rising women in corporate America. This empowering environment shaped my goals to pursue a career in law and policy, as well as my passion in reproductive justice.

My education at a women’s college has made me the leader I am today. After two years at Mount Holyoke, I can state that I have not missed out on the “traditional college experience.” I would never trade the supportive community, the rich legacy of alumnae, the number of quirky traditions, and my overall experience at a women’s college with a co-ed college experience because after all, being normal is vastly overrated!

HC: Why did you choose to create your own major?

SH: I chose to create my own major because of my interdisciplinary understanding of international relations, art and politics. Throughout my two years of college, I have taken thought-provoking classes in gender studies, art history, sociology, and politics, which have inspired me to understand how all of these different subjects are interdisciplinary and important for social change.

I believe that there are unconventional approaches to public policy, such as the study and use of art, which allow us to understand society in a different way and bring about social change. Since Mount Holyoke offers students [the opportunity] to design their own interdisciplinary major, my advisors and I have decided that my intersecting interests can be combined to create a special major, which will allow me to pursue all of my interests in art history and politics.

HC: What does being a first-generation college student mean to you?

SH: Being a first-generation college student means that I am a role model for my community. As a daughter of immigrant parents, I am the first one within my family to pursue a college education within the United States. This is something I’m extremely proud of, since I’m able to celebrate and attribute my success to my parents’ hard work and sacrifice.

But it isn’t easy. During my first year of college, a lot of my stress and anxiety was rooted in my identity as a first-generation college student. Despite the support I received from my school, I still felt lost and confused because I could not turn to my parents for advice in regards to my college experience. Since my parents did not attend college, I felt like they wouldn’t be able to relate to my concerns. It wasn’t until my sophomore year [that] I befriended upper class first-generation students, who served as role model[s] for me. From choosing courses to giving advice on internship opportunities, my upper class peers served as an impromptu first-generation student support system!

That is why I am motivated to pay it forward. I want to help incoming students who might have a similar issue with their identity. In order for me to accomplish this, I’ve taken up leadership positions, such as the New Student Orientation Board, which will allow me to serve as a leader, role model and guide for my community. I want first-generation college students to have an easier transition to college. I want them to be proud of what they’ve already accomplished. 

HC: How would you describe yourself in five words?

SH: Bubbly, passionate, independent, creative and optimistic. 

HC: What advice do you have for other ambitious collegiettes with a goal/dream?

SH: Don’t apologize for chasing your ambitious goals and dreams, because your passion will take you far. Be unapologetic, stand firm on your values and never compromise yourself, because you can defy expectations and challenge the status quo! If you know what you want, then go for it!

HC: What is your favorite inspirational quote?

SH: “I want to live the rest of my life, however long or short, with as much sweetness as I can decently manage, loving all the people I love, and doing as much as I can of the work I still have to do.” – Audre Lorde

Jamie is a senior Writing, Literature and Publishing major at Emerson College in Boston, MA. She is the Her Campus Life Editor, a National Contributing Writer, and Campus Correspondent of the Emerson Her Campus chapter. Jamie plans to pursue a career in the magazine industry. See more of her work at: www.jamiemkravitz.com
Brittany is passionate about the development of communities, both online and offline. As the Director of Community Development & Strategic Programming for Her Campus Media, Brittany oversees the development and growth of the Her Campus Chapter and Alumni Networks. She also oversees internal professional development and mentorship programming for current students and postgrads, including the first annual 22 Under 22 Most Inspiring College Women list. Currently, Brittany spearheads programming and production of Her Campus's tentpole conference series - Her Conference and Her Conference: High School - and the production of College Fashion Week 2015.Brittany's pastimes include listening to live music, reading books in their physical form, being outdoors, and consuming way too much coffee. She is an alumna of Boston College and currently lives in Austin, TX. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.