New Student Group, Initiatives for Columbia First-Gens

Recently, there have been several articles about Columbia University first-generation college students and the need for more institutional support.

Columbia University has some programs designed to help low-income and first-generation students, such as the Academic Success Programs, which include the Higher Education Opportunity Program and National Opportunity Program. These programs provide peer mentoring, tutoring help, and semester book allowances. Students have pointed out, though, that not all students that can benefit are selected to be a part of these programs.

Mandeep Singh, a Columbia senior, points out the gaps in resources at Columbia in the article “First and Foremost. 

“Columbia is great for having this super ethnic and racial diversity, but when you peel the layers back, that’s just a façade. Saying we’re ethnically diverse, it’s whatever. But when you look at the subpopulation of Columbia, this demographic of first-generation students that have huge overlap with each other, this demographic is hugely overlooked when it comes to our Columbia experience.”

Columbia students seem to be working to address these issues at various levels. My friend and fellow Quest Scholar Terranisha Hiley received an award last year for her efforts. Mandeep, along with other students, has helped launch FLIP: First-Generation and/or Low-Income Partnership in order to address some of the student concerns.

In reading through notes from a recent Columbia College Student Council meeting, it is evident that student advocacy has had some success as some changes are being implemented by top administrators. Dean of Advising Monique Rinere was present at the meeting and discussed some of the changes meant to benefit low-income and first-generation students and other academic changes that aren’t explicitly for first-gens but benefit them as well.

New academic skill-building workshops have been added. As a pilot program, weekly, half-hour academic coaching sessions are being offered to students in one biology class. Though academic skills workshops can fall short if they take a one size fits all approach, they can be beneficial if they take into account diverse student experiences.

Dean Rinere also mentioned the addition of a first-generation student event during freshmen orientation and a new first-generation mentoring program. The Columbia counseling center is also working to develop a first-generation support group. As a college student, I personally advocated for a first-generation and low-income support group, though there wasn’t much movement with the issue. Mental health is a widely overlooked issue among college students. Last year, I connected with Princeton University to learn more about their first-generation support group. More colleges need to take charge in filling the mental health gap.

While Columbia’s changes are still not comprehensive, they are a good start. Having the FLIP student group will ensure administrators are held accountable.

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