To mark a nationwide celebration of First Generation college students, Rutgers Today profiled students who are the first in their families to attend college. Among them is Rutgers-Newark student Safanya Searcy, 42, an Honors Living Learning Community (HLLC) student with two decades of experience as a public servant and political organizer. 

Searcy, a student representative to the Board of Governors, was born and raised in Newark. Twenty years ago, she longed to attend college, but it seemed financially out of reach.

“I was raised by my grandmother who worked as a nursing assistant and raised myself and my younger brother on $30,000 a year,” she said. “I was not aware of the programs I could have applied to for assistance.”

Today, Searcy, a double major in justice studies and political science with a minor in social justice, is considering a run at law school or working toward her doctoral degree. But for now, she is thoroughly enjoying living and learning with her HLLC scholars.

“I light up when I’m around them. These young adults are brilliant. As an adult you learn to lead from behind. I want them to build leadership skills, and I want to be there to support all that,” she said. “But when I lift my voice on certain subjects, such as Newark history, the tremendous amount of respect they show me is incredible. I’m so excited to be on this learning journey with them.