A new student group—the First Generation Student Alliance—is well underway at William & Mary Law School, and already making a difference providing essential social, academic and professional support to law students who are first in their family to pursue post-secondary and graduate education.
Established during the fall 2020 semester, the Alliance was created by incoming students Gerry “Jam” Jamison ’23 and Charleigh Kondas ’23, both of whom recognize the benefits of a strong network of fellow first-generation students, alumni and faculty. The group plays a strong role in the Why We Can't Wait equity and inclusion agenda launched last summer.
Currently, more than 60 students make up the network.
Jamison, a William & Mary undergraduate alumnus (Class of 2019) who was raised in Connecticut and later moved to Chesterfield County, Virginia, credits a summer Instagram Live session hosted by the William & Mary Student Bar Association (SBA) with instilling the idea of a first generation group.
“I asked if there were any programs or resources for first-generation students, and learned that there currently weren’t any,” Jamison says. “Later, a few weeks into my first semester, I heard that Dean Spencer was interested in promoting the interests of first-generation students.”
SBA President Nick Armah ’21 reached out to Jamison and asked if he would be interested in starting an organization. The answer was a resounding “yes.”
Working in conjunction with some of the leadership in the school and the SBA, the alliance took off, with Jamison and Kondas leading the charge.
Kondas, who comes from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and attended Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia, has been impressed with the response so far. She especially appreciates how students are willing to get involved.
“Having such great peers act on building the group has been amazing,” Kondas says. “Jam has a virtual panel going in April, and we plan to create a mentorship program for admitted students and 1Ls with 2Ls and, hopefully, 3Ls who are part of the First Generation Student Alliance. I think it’s been very successful so far.”
Jamison and Kondas see the alliance filling a need on several different fronts. A social aspect will bring students together to talk with others about being first-generation students struggling with interpersonal, academic and professional connections.
An academic aspect will allow students to ask questions they might otherwise be too shy to ask. As an example, Jamison says a first-generation student might go a long time without knowing what the word outlining means, whereas a second- or third-generation student might simply ask a family member who went to law school.
The third aspect is professional, with an outpouring of requests for the group to connect first-generation students with professional resources and contacts.
And fourth, is a desire for first-generation students to want to give back in some capacity.
“A lot of students are asking us for the ability to be mentors to prospective law students and people applying to grad school now,” Jamison says.
For Kondas, first-generation mentors are a strong factor in helping students think about attending law school.
“Incoming first-generation students want to know that they’re supported and that we have their backs, and that there are other people in their shoes who have been successful right here at William & Mary,” Kondas says. “I think that mentorship aspect plays a huge role in what first-generation students bring to William & Mary.
This April, the Alliance held two panels, one with faculty and another with alumni. The organization also got involved with the Admitted Students Week program.
Jamison says the group will then specifically reach out to more 2L and 3L students.
“Next year we’ll be 2Ls, so we’ll be asking 3Ls to potentially form membership groups,” Jamison says. “And then, when we’re we’re vaccinated and back on campus, we will hold in-person events that will open up a lot of opportunities. Right now we have virtual Zoom gatherings, but when we’re in person, we’ll be able to have a lot more social activities.”
To learn more about the First Generation Student Alliance, please email email@example.com. Or visit the group’s Facebook page: W&M First Generation Student Alliance. They can also be reached via Instagram: @wmfgsa.
About William & Mary Law School
Legal education in a university setting began at William & Mary in 1779. Now in its third century, America's first law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.