The First-Generation Students Program, led by Professor Monica Teixeira de Sousa provides a safe space where students feel supported, encouraged, and heard.
“Law school is a confusing and often intimidating place that can easily overwhelm you,” said Marysol Velazquez ‘22. “The first-generation program is a place to process these changes and the additional obstacles you face as the first person in your family to pursue this career. It’s a place of support and understanding.”
The First-Generation Students Program at New England Law | Boston was established in 2018 when Professor Monica Teixeira de Sousa – whose own parents were unable to pursue higher education – saw the need for this type of community and decided she would make it happen.
“In my own law school experience, I often felt somewhat alienated,” said Teixeira de Sousa. “I wanted to find a way to make sure our students felt like they belonged here, because they do. There are so many of us going through similar situations, but you don’t always realize you’re not alone.”
In fact, over 30% of the fall 2020 incoming class at New England Law identified as first generation.
Caitlin Whitman ‘22 made an important observation that “first-generation students have many intersections of identities.” She said, “Professor Teixeira de Sousa does a great job allowing space to explore all of those intersections. It feels good to have a community where we can all speak freely, confide in each other, and get advice. The program also allows you to connect and network with alumni, and to build skills needed in this profession.”
In the first year of the program, Professor Teixeira de Sousa hosted monthly events where students were invited to come and meet one another, talk about the struggles (and joys) of law school, and share their experiences. Students of all ages and from all backgrounds would find commonalities and feel less isolated.
Professor Teixeira de Sousa worried though, “If things got too heavy in terms of what students were discussing, I might not know how to successfully steer them.” So in its second year, the program gained a second impactful leader in Barbara Bowe, a licenced clinical social worker with decades of experience at Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers where she and others help law students, lawyers, and judges in Massachusetts.
When asked what makes New England Law’s First-Generation Students Program unique, Kyle Cullen ‘21 said, “The pairing of Professor Teixeira de Sousa and Barbara Bowe is incredibly helpful because we can focus on the unique experiences of being a first-generation student through the experiences of someone who has walked this path, and address our concerns from the perspective of someone who has professionally assisted practicing lawyers for many years – truly a dynamic duo!”
For many the program serves as a place to turn when things get tough. Marysol Velazquez ‘22 shared, “The program has become a space where I can be vulnerable and talk about things I am struggling with and know I will be supported and validated. When I shared about the anxiety attacks I was experiencing, the other students in the group reached out in support and helped me with resources. That experience helped me feel more comfortable seeking outside help to better manage my anxiety. I’ve become really good friends with people I met in the first-gen program. I think and hope these will be friendships that will last far beyond law school.”
“Students who attend frequently are especially comfortable sharing with us,” said Professor Teixeira de Sousa. Bowe added, “We don’t shy away from any topic. We talk about everything. We really try to help these students see the value in their life experience and how it’s going to play out in their futures as lawyers.”
As for the future of the program, Professor Teixeira de Sousa and Barbara Bowe certainly plan to continue their work in supporting first-generation students. Teixeira de Sousa said, “I honestly hope to see the greater law school space change to accommodate these students, so that all first-generation students can feel this level of comfort and camaraderie, at any law school, in any state.”
This piece was originally published in the 2020 Edition of The Bridge, New England Law's Alumni Magazine. Flip through a digital copy of the edition: here.