Empowerment and hope at GenOne

In a series of talks and workshops, the University of British Columbia (UBC) First Generation Student Union (FGSU) and guest speakers will inform and empower their audience for the pandemic and beyond. People of all ages and backgrounds can attend the GenOne Conference.

Co-presidents Zahra Fazal, age 23, and Jaskirat Malhi, age 21, share their thoughts about the GenOne Conference on Feb. 21 titled First Generation Low Income Students and the Future.

Founder and president of the FGSU, Fazal is a student at UBC and volunteers on the UBC First Aid Student Team. Malhi is a Microbiology major in his fourth year at the UBC Faculty of Science. As heads of the FGSU, the two lead a union dedicated to empowering students who are the first in their families to attend university. The FGSU’s goals include permanently breaking barriers to inclusion and accessibility for first generation and low income (FGLI) students.

The GenOne Conference is a groundbreaking new event organized to provide a platform for those objectives that both Fazal and Malhi have worked tirelessly to organize. Conducted remotely, the GenOne Conference is an important piece for achieving the FGSU’s goals.

“This national program conference, being the first of its kind in Canada, is hopefully a testament to the power of equity-seeking groups coming together unitedly to share the platform of change with others,” says Fazal.

COVID-19 and FGLI students

Getting your voice heard is the first step in establishing a movement and change says Zahra Fazal. | Photo courtesy of UBCFGSU

“This distinction between access and inclusion is jarring during the pandemic, often leaving FGLI students feeling fatigued from battling everything alone,” says Fazal.

Breaking down barriers to accessing university resources and support systems is another topic the GenOne Conference will cover. The pandemic made lives harder for FGLI students, so the FGSU took action. They forged partnerships with UBC campus resource centres to help the most affected FGLI students.

“We have partnered with the Food Security Initiative at UBC to advise on matters of food insecurity that have been heightened on campus during the pandemic,” says Fazal, who studies Global Health & Nutrition.

GenOne’s previews detail how FGLI students were hit hard both systemically and financially by the pandemic. Food security and financial stability for FGLI students are topics the GenOne Conference will also cover.

Empowering FGLI voices at GenOne

Founded only in 2019, the FGSU put together the GenOne Conference in 2021 to give FGLI students a powerful platform backed by nine sponsorships. Keynote speakers include MLA Anne Kang, Minister of Advanced Education and Carolyn Roberts, a prolific speaker and educator of over 20 years at Simon Fraser University.

Discourses on systemic inequity across society have grown in recent times, and this large conference serves as proof of that. Fazal and Malhi see the opportunity to build on GenOne and take it even further in the future.

“We definitely see room for growth within university discourses on equity and inclusion. Destigmatizing the FGLI identity and advocating for marginalized students will raise awareness and support for the underrepresented FGLI students,” says Fazal.

Hopes for the future

GenOne is the start of what the FGSU plans to build upon to hold another, bigger conference next year. To make that happen, GenOne’s co-presidents have a particular goal.

“[We hope] to extend our impact beyond UBC and to other Canadian institutions,” says Fazal.

Students and other people of all backgrounds are encouraged to attend GenOne alongside their FGLI counterparts.

“There is a need to bring more awareness to the FGLI identity in general. GenOne is hoping to achieve that by inviting both FGLI and non-FGLI students,” says Fazal.

The co-presidents believe GenOne will generate momentum for the FGSU. After GenOne, the FGSU envisions future conferences with greater attendance and interest.

“Getting your voice heard is the first step in establishing a movement and change,” says Fazal, regarding the future of the FGSU and its goals.

For more information please visit: www.ubcfgsu.org/genone