Meet WaWa Charles, Emmanuel's First-Generation College Student Intern for the Center of Diversity and Inclusion

WaWa Charles is a familiar face to many Emmanuel students. He can always be found smiling, joking around with friends, and making EC a brighter place. Recently, he became the Center for Diversity and Inclusion’s First-Generation College Student intern, a role that provides resources  and advocates for First-Generation Students at Emmanuel College. Her Campus at Emmanuel visited WaWa in Emmanuel’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion to chat about this role, the unique challenges First-Generation students face, and how our community can support them.


Her Campus at Emmanuel: So WaWa, tell us a bit about yourself! 

WaWa Charles: I am a senior here at Emmanuel and I am a Sociology major with a concentration in Criminology. I was born in Haiti and then my family and I migrated to the United States, but I was less than a year old so can’t remember anything about Haiti. I lived in Waltham, Ma until I was about seven. I have been in Orlando, Fl since and now I am back in Boston. 

HCE: What is your position with the Center for Diversity and Inclusion? 

WC: I am the First-Generation College Student internship for the Center of Diversity and Inclusion. 

Image courtesy of Pexels 

HCE: At Emmanuel, what qualifies as a First-Generation student?

WC: We have multiple definitions provided: 

  • Students whose parents did not complete a four-year degree

  • Students who’ve had minimal contact with people who’ve had a higher education experience

  • Students whose parents attended college in a different country where the educational system varies from that of the U.S

  • Students who may have had a parent complete a degree, but that parent is not part of their lives. 

HCE: What problems do First-Generation students face? 

WC: They don’t know their way around campus, where offices are and who their resources are on campus. They may hear about these offices and clubs while at orientation, but this information doesn’t stick. You feel overwhelmed, happy that you’re in college but overwhelmed just by the emotion of just being in a new environment. I know I was personally, I felt as if my family was depending on me to graduate. 

Image courtesy of Pexels 

HCE: You said you are from Florida. What unique challenges do First-Generation students attending college out-of-state face? 

WC: They don’t have the sense of belonging in the new environment. Thankfully everything we need in Boston specifically the Fenway Neighborhood means everything is within walking distance. Socially, everything feels awkward though, it feels like no one could relate to you. Everyone who attends this school seems to be from the New England area which isn’t necessarily true. We have staff as well as other students who are from other places around the globe. The first couple of weeks maybe months of being in college you honestly don’t have a sense of belonging. I know you may get homesick, but you can’t grow where you’re comfortable so stick it out it gets easier.  

HCE: What resources are available for First-Generation students at Emmanuel?

WC: We have a plethora of resources on campus, and if any future of current Emmanuel student notices that we are lacking a resource I do encourage them to attempt to create this resource. We have Res-life, the counseling center, The Center of Diversity and Inclusion, Academic Advising, Arc (Academic Resource Center), The Career Center and Mission and Ministry and more. 

HCE: You have described how difficult it can be for First-Generation students to find resources on campus. What was your process for finding resources like when you first came to Emmanuel? 

WC: During orientation my Freshmen Year, I remember Jeff Smith Jr. introducing himself to me. He ended up telling me about all these other clubs on campus that I should maybe consider joining or getting involved with. I wasn’t really involved in high school so I thought me doing things with this office would help me leave a positive legacy on campus. 

HCE: What can student leaders do to help First-Generation students?

WC: Be supportive and give guidance to them the best way you can. Realize that they are figuring everything out and doing everything for the first time. Connect them to the proper resource if you yourself can’t assist. You must also realize the privilege you may have as a student who has parents that have obtained the 4 year degree. 

Image courtesy of Pexels 

HCE: What is your advice for First-Generation students?

WC: That you being a first generation college student is a blessing. Some employers are looking for students who identify as a first-generation college student. This shows that you can deal with pressure and easily adapt to new environment. I know some days you may want to give up, but let’s face it every college student wants to give up at some point and time. No cloud stays over a person’s head forever the sun has to eventually come out. 

HCE: What do you see in the future both for yourself and Emmanuel? 

WC: For myself I plan on pursuing a career in higher education now. I would love to help not only students who identify as a first-generation college student but also be an advocate for students of color on any college campus. As far as Emmanuel goes, I hope to see that students attend more events on campus, not just events where food is being provided. I hope that Professors could incorporate extra credit to students if they attend events on campus. I hope someday that there is a program where a week or two before school starts that First-year students as well as First generation students have a week or two of transition. Where everything that we teach them during the tool box in drilled into them to prepare them more for academic success. 

We had a blast interviewing WaWa and learning more about what it means to be a First-Generation student at Emmanuel! If you would like to learn more about Emmanuel’s resources for First-Generation students, you can follow @imfirstec on Instagram!

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.