Ever since Boston College Director of Athletics Martin Jarmond arrived on campus in June 2017, he’s used social media to promote all 31 of BC’s varsity sports. In fact, over the course of the first month and a half of the 2017 Fall semester, the then-first-year AD fired out 51 tweets—18 more than his predecessor, Brad Bates, published during the entire 2016-17 academic year. That said, Jarmond understands the drawbacks of social media, particularly those concerning the platform’s superficiality.
“You don’t know what people are going through,” he said. “You don’t know what their challenges and their struggles are. And so I think it’s really important in a fractured kind of community sometimes to really bring people in together and let them know, ‘Hey you matter, you’re important, and we’re here for you.’”
In the case of sports, many alumni, fans, and students scroll through players’ Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook profiles and jump to the conclusion that athletes have it easy. In reality, though, that’s often far from true, especially when it comes to first-generation student-athletes—athletes whose parents didn’t attend college—a group that makes up 14 percent of all Division I participants, according to NCAA.com.
Jarmond wasn’t a first-generation student-athlete himself, but he played with a handful while at University of North Carolina Wilmington and has worked with several more during his time at Michigan State, Ohio State, and now BC. So when he replaced Bates two summers ago, he made it a priority to set up a support system for first-generation student-athletes, starting with a meet-and-greet at the beginning of the year.
And in Jarmond’s words, what happened was “magic.”
About 50 first-generation student-athletes showed up and discussed their journeys to BC, sharing experiences and obstacles that they encountered along the way. Although many of the athletes in attendance were from different backgrounds, they were united by the fact that they were all going through the same process.
“It’s important that they know that they’re not alone, because it can be isolating, but also too that there are so many resources on campus and that we’re here to help them not only thrive, but really succeed and start something in their family that can last for generations,” Jarmond said.
Faculty and on-campus resource staffers were also present to discuss any potential concerns regarding academics, as well as those pertaining to the college transition period. After all, the classroom can often be daunting for first-generation student-athletes—at least, that was the case for redshirt freshman cornerback Brandon Sebastian.
Like the rest of the football team, the West Haven, Conn. native was required to spend a great deal of the summer in Chestnut Hill for offseason workouts and training camp. In a matter of days, he formed relationships with his teammates, notably fellow defensive backs. What worried him was the impending school year—not because of the rigorous practice schedule, but because of a full course load. Sebastian was unsure of how his high school time management skills would translate to college. That was just one of the several questions that were swirling in his head as August fast approached.
“It’s hard for everyone,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know that, but it’s pretty difficult for student-athletes coming in—first-generation, not knowing what to do, who to talk to.”
Also a first-generation student-athlete, men’s basketball head coach Jim Christian can certainly relate. The fifth-year Eagles coach, who played his college ball at Boston University before transferring to Rhode Island, recalls being severely underprepared for course registration. Luckily for Christian, his roomate at the time—also a member of the BU basketball team—helped him with some of the technicalities of freshman year while the two acclimated to life on campus.
Regardless of the first-generation student-athlete, there’s always the fear of whether or not success both athletically and academically is actually achievable. In Christian’s eyes, wrestling with that fear is part of the adjustment process.
“I think everybody has a little bit of self doubt that I think you have to work through, in order to try to get to the points that you want to be,” he said.
Christian—along with football assistant strength and conditioning coach and former BC running back Tyler Rouse, BC Law professor Sharon Beckman, and assistant director of BC’s Diversity and Inclusion-Office of First-Year Experience Anya Villatoro—made up a panel of BC professionals, all of whom were first-generation students, at Jarmond’s April 4 “First-Generation Celebration.” The event was designed to further first generation student-athlete relationships, as well as offer a variety of resources and mentors.
Sebastian described the night as a humbling experience, hearing all sorts of stories from other first-generation students. Jarmond emphasized the importance of constantly reminding first-generation student-athletes that the athletic department, coaching staffs, and faculty all have their back. This kind of camaraderie paves the way for success, and once you have a taste of success, Christian said that everything else at college suddenly becomes easier.
“I even think the minute that you have success academically, the minute you feel comfortable socially, the minute that, academically, you feel like you’re on top or doing as well as you can do, I think then you just build self-confidence—all those things come together, that’s what college is supposed to be about,” he said. “It’s all about finding self-confidence and self-awareness.”
As a redshirt freshman, Sebastian—the Week 10 ACC Defensive Back of the Week—has experienced that kind of transformation and said that he feels much more comfortable in year two: he knows who to talk to, where to go for help, and the ins and outs of campus life.
Jarmond is planning to host the panel again this spring, only this time with the hope that first-generation student-athletes like Sebastian will take lead of the event. As far as Jarmond is concerned, a top-down program’s days are always numbered—current student-athletes would best cater to the demands and interests of their fellow classmates.
The success of the event has inspired the creation of a first-generation student-athlete club and encouraged other groups within BC Athletics to launch their own projects, such as programs for female and minority athletes.
While there are undeniable pressures that come with being a first-generation student-athlete, there are also an enormous number of opportunities. Take Sebastian: He has a chance to set an example for his brother Bryce—who is planning on playing at BC next year—his sister, and the rest of his extended family.
“It’s very important, the lasting legacy and impact that these students can have when they graduate, setting an example for those coming behind them—you can’t place a value on that,” Jarmond said.
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Senior Staff
Photos by Bradley Smart and Celine Lim / Heights Editors