Newbury Center Launches First-Generation Student Magazine
Elevate features poems, essays, photos, and artwork by first-gen students, faculty, and staff
If there’s one thing that Newbury Center student staffers Valerie Sanchez Covaleda (CGS’22, COM’24) and Katarina Quach (COM’24) are well aware of, it’s that first-generation college students are not a monolith.
That was just one of the things the two first-gen undergrads wanted to highlight when they were charged with creating the inaugural publication for the first-gen student center.
That publication would eventually become Elevate magazine, a 60-page glossy filled with 21 photographs, poems, essays, and artwork solicited from first-generation students, faculty, and staff.
Quach and Sanchez Covaleda, the publication’s editors-in-chief, ran every submission they received. They purposely provided little to no guidelines for submissions—as a result, the pieces cover a wide variety of topics and experiences, and evoke a range of moods and feelings. Elevate made its print debut at the end of the 2022 spring semester, in April.
Each Elevate submission features a note from the author or artist explaining the piece and what it means to them. An essay by PhD candidate Alexa Friedman (SPH’23), for example, examines the work ethic she inherited from her mother and grandfather. Friedman writes of juggling multiple jobs and missing out on college rites of passage that peers were able to enjoy. “My submission is an essay about how I felt that my first-gen experience deprived me of the chance to ‘find myself’ outside of my school and work identities, and how that was a challenge for me as a PhD student where school was meant to be my only focus,” her accompanying note says.
On the other end of the spectrum, the cover image, a photograph of Gloucester’s East Point Lighthouse taken by Dolly Yin (CAS’23), is both a tribute to the exploratory nature of pursuing education and an acknowledgement of how far she’s come. “The bright sunlight that afternoon warmed all of us in the cold winter. As first-gen college students, we worship knowledge, hope, adventure just like those people from that day worshiping the beauty of the landscape,” Yin writes.
That range is precisely what the editors want readers to realize.
“To talk about both the good and the bad of being a first-gen student felt very uncommon,” Quach says. “Capturing the beauty in both of those things is what makes me the happiest about the magazine.”
The coeditors also wanted to create a space free of the “trauma dumping” that first-gen students from low-income backgrounds can feel pressured to do when trying to secure things like financial aid or housing assistance. “I feel like you’re under pressure a lot of the time to share your story with anyone and everyone—like, ‘This is why I don’t have the money right now,’” Sanchez Covaleda explains.
“I’m pretty comfortable doing that, but I know not everyone is. We thought it would be great to have an outlet where people can express themselves in a creative way and share [whatever story they want to].”
In addition to their editing duties, both Quach and Sanchez Covaleda contributed pieces of their own for the magazine. In her poem Multitudes, Quach dissects her intersectional identities as not only a first-gen student, but also as a Vietnamese-American and trans woman at BU. “I crunch my feet into the snow trying not to slip/there’s no footprints that fit mine, let alone any I can see,” she writes.
Sanchez Covaleda submitted a photograph she took on a trip to Mexico, when she visited her father’s native country for the first time. “Being first-gen is difficult because you have to carry both your heritage and your family’s history, while venturing into new spaces and navigating completely foreign experiences,” her artist’s note explains.
The idea for the magazine sprang from a similar publication published at Seattle University, says Newbury Center director Maria Dykema Erb, a first-gen student herself. “I just thought it was so beautiful for students to be able to utilize and share their voices about first-gen identity,” she says. She tasked Sanchez Covaleda and Quach—both self-described creative types—with handling the production, which spanned the fall 2021 and spring 2022 semesters.
Seeing the magazine finally come to fruition has been emotional, Dykema Erb says. “When I actually got the hard copy in my hands,” she says, “I was like, oh my goodness, these are the precious stories of all of our students who have given these to us with care.’”
Going forward, the goal is to have an annual spring issue, she says.
As editors-in-chief, Quach and Sanchez Covaleda say they are honored they could help shine a light on the first-gen experience at BU.
“Not a lot of people can say that they’ve gotten themselves through the situations that we’ve been through,” Quach says. “I think it’s pretty common for first-gen students to say that they’ve developed a sense of resiliency [from learning how to self-advocate and navigate University systems].
“Looking back on hardships I’ve personally experienced, I’m still very grateful for the life I have, and I don’t think I’d really change anything. You build character in a way that not a lot of people will get to experience.”
Want to pick up a copy of Elevate? Stop by the Newbury Center at 755 Commonwealth Ave., Suite B18, to grab a magazine, or view a digital version here.