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.
It is no secret that Washington University in St. Louis consistently ranks low on lists of socioeconomic diversity among elite colleges. Among its student body, only about 7% is considered low-income, a fact brought into greater prominence after the NY Times’ College Access Index was published. The College Access Index ranked colleges based on the share of freshmen in recent years who came from low-income families (measured by the share receiving a Pell grant) and on the net price of attendance for low- and middle-income families.
Columbia University’s Quest Scholars Network put a spin on November, dubbing it “Class Awareness Month.” Throughout the month of November and the end of October, Quest Scholars and various other campus organizations presented several events related to socioeconomic background on campus.
The conversations ranged from open conversations on the low-income student experience to discussions about social class in Africa. With a growing push to get low-income students to elite colleges, students have started to raise awareness about the barriers they face once at these colleges. Stanford University’s student group also dedicates a week to class issues in the spring. The more students talk about these issues, the more administrators will take notice of an invisible minority. Continue reading →
Last week, the Socioeconomic Diversity Alliance (SDA), the student group for low-income and first-generation students at UChicago, hosted a talk by Kevin Jennings. Jennings founded the Harvard First Generation Alumni group and mentoring program. Bringing a wealth of knowledge as a first-generation student himself, Jennings led a dynamic discussion about what elite colleges can do for first-gen students. A few college administrators attended the talk as well, which shows interest at the institutional level. The Chicago Maroon, the student newspaper, wrote an article about the event for last week’s Friday edition.
For this week’s Tuesday edition of the Chicago Maroon, two articles were written about separate SDA efforts. One mentioned the launching of a first-generation mentoring program out of the Office of the Dean of Students. The mentoring program will match 1st year, first-generation students with local alumni who were first-generation students themselves. The article mentions the work of SDA focus groups being the inspiration for the development of the mentoring program.
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.
As a first-year at Scripps College, Melissa Mesinas ’12 struggled to adjust academically to a rigorous institution. Getting used to reading hundreds of pages every week was a challenge, but she was afraid of telling anyone that she was struggling.
It wasn’t until later that she started to sense that her first-generation identity had much to do with her trouble acclimating to Scripps. She started to wonder, “Why isn’t there formal support for first-generation students?”