Last year, I wrote a post about the “class confessions‘ movement on campuses across the country. The Facebook pages for anonymous confessions around socioeconomic class have since reached a new height of popularity. Since my post, at least eight new pages have been created at different schools.
This, of course, is not coincidental. It’s a result of a growing network of first-generation and/or low-income groups that increasingly share ideas about the work they are doing. In February 2015, the Ivy League and other elite schools gathered for a first-generation conference at Brown University. I was on a panel discussion with three other students to discuss our work on our campuses. Class Confessions came up in the conversations. I described how UChicago had been inspired by Stanford’s project to start the UChicago Class Confessions Facebook page in early 2013. Shortly after, we saw Northwestern start their Tumblr and Claremont Colleges start a Facebook page.
What was once a smaller movement that seemed to have spread based on a smaller network of students on social media has become even more powerful because of a gathering of students on a national scale. This forum allowed the class confessions idea to take off. I remember the Columbia University students being very interested in learning about how we had launched ours at UChicago. Shortly after the conference, Columbia launched theirs. Several others have followed suit. Here’s a list of all the class confessions pages I’ve found. Let’s keep having these important conversations.
A few lines about Yale stood out to me. The author quoted Christian Vazquez, a first-gen Yale graduate. He says, ‘There’s a lot of support at Yale, to an extent, after a while, there’s too much support,’ he said, half-jokingly about the myriad resources available at the school.’”
We learn a bit more about Yale’s support systems, “Students are placed in small cohorts with counselors (trained seniors on campus); they have access to cultural and ethnic affinity groups, tutoring centers and also have a summer orientation specifically for first-generation students (the latter being one of the most common programs for students).”
The University of Florida recently held a first generation summit aimed at helping students learn how to claim and tell their stories. There are so many particularities about the college experience and learning how to share that with others in an honest way is an important undertaking.
A few weeks ago Kevin Jennings, the founder of the Harvard First Generation Alumni group and mentoring program, came to the University of Chicago to give a talk about first-gen students at selective colleges. Based on the talk, I made this list of the top 10 things people should consider about first-gen students, particularly at more selective colleges.
The president of Grinnell College argues that need-blind admissions do not necessarily lead to a socioeconomically diverse student body. Elite college admissions are largely shaped to reward students that already have the most advantages, which disadvantages low-income students without access to certain resources. Considering need during admissions might actually allow admissions officers to better evaluate students based on the resources allotted to them and not based on the resources they just didn’t have available to them.
A few faculty and staff of the City College of New York stress the importance of investing in minority-serving colleges. Access initiatives lately have largely emphasized the need to send more low-income students to elite colleges. Elite colleges are idealized as the solutions for students. However, this fails to address the larger problem of lack of investment in many other institutions that already serve a large percentage of minority students. Why not focus on the potential instead of opting for the simplistic solution of funneling low-income students into a set number of elite schools?
Yesenia Arroyo, a student at Princeton, offers a critique of the notion that students shouldn’t pursue a high-paying job after graduation because it hurts the middle class. As a low-income first-generation student, Arroyo says that her education is largely motivated by the possibility of helping her family reach financial stability. While personal fulfillment is often emphasized in educational pursuit, Arroyo says that some students don’t have the luxury of making their education about only themselves.
I believe any change at a university has to start with the students. Over the past few years, I have done a lot of research on first-gen/low-income support services at different universities, particularly UChicago’s peer institutions. Stanford University has always stood out to me because of their first-gen initiatives. Their First-Generation Low-Income Partnership (FLIP) stands out as one of the most active first-gen groups in the country. Stanford’s Diversity and First-Gen Office is one of the only offices for first-gens among peer institutions. An institutional office isn’t just created naturally, so I started to do some research on how it came about. I learned that it all started with a student’s undergraduate thesis.
Siobhan Greatorex-Voith graduated from Stanford in 2008. While a student at Stanford, she started to consider various questions regarding class dynamics at top colleges. Her sophomore year, she started to do research on first-gen students. Her findings uncovered the barriers that first-gen students face, particularly at Stanford.
Over the past few years, there has been an increasing consciousness of socioeconomic class on college campuses. We are seeing students raise awareness in various ways, such as through panel discussions and articles. However, some campuses have taken to social media to spur widespread conversations about “class confessions.”
Class confessions refer to anonymous confessions related to students’ class backgrounds. Stanford’s First-Generation Low-Income Partnership started this project a few years ago. They had students make submissions through a google form and discussed them openly at an event. About two years ago, they also used a Tumblr to publicize some of the confessions, which caught my eye.
On Wednesday, the University of Chicago announced some major initiatives to increase college access and support for low-income students throughout their academic careers.
One of the new initiatives is No Barriers, a program that aims to simplify the admission application and financial aid process. No Barriers includes:
Replacement of student loans with grants in all need-based financial aid packages: This is a big move to reduce college debt, which means the University is finally catching up to peer institutions in terms of sound financial aid policies. Though student activists will never receive credit for this change, the Southside Solidarity Network had been campaigning for a no-loan policy for the past few years.
No college application fees for families seeking financial aid
Elimination of the CSS Financial Aid Profile requirement: The CSS Profile is the worst invention to befall college students, so no one is sad to see this overly complicated application go.
More than 100 free, nationwide information sessions on college application and the financial aid process: These sessions have the potential to make a big impact on the students applying to the College. The simplification of the financial aid process is a step in the right direction. Increasing access isn’t as simple as holding more sessions, though. The University has to be intentional about where they hold these sessions, in addition to their outreach, to ensure low-income students take advantage of these opportunities.
In addition to showing a commitment to increasing college access, the University also announced changes to improve the quality of life for students already in the College.