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Recognize socioeconomic class

The transition to living away from home and going to college is a difficult experience for anyone. Yet, for first-generation college students — whose parents did not attend, let alone graduate, from four-year institutions — the difficulties of the transition are even more challenging. From adapting to academic life while navigating the social scene to maintaining responsibilities and ties back home, the transition is oftentimes overwhelming.

My identity as a first generation, low-income college student is something that fills me with pride, but that was not always the case.

Many low-income and first-generation students like myself carry the weight of their upbringing, their familial responsibilities and post-graduation obligations everywhere they go.

There is nothing easy about growing up with parents working minimum wage jobs, often resulting in paying for education out of pocket. First-generation college students are left with little to no safety net to fall back on if they don’t get a job over the summer and, most importantly, after graduation.

Some of us have to worry about many more financial concerns than the average student. Some of us have to worry about whether our family will be able to pay their mortgage that month and whether we can afford to travel home during breaks. Some of us have to spend a significant portion of our work-study funds to finance things that we never had access to before arriving at Wooster — things like business and formal clothes, health care or even medical exams.

The term “being broke” is constantly and casually used around college campuses, even glorified; something that stings for many of those to whom “being broke” means more than not being able to eat out twice a week. Nineteen percent of students at the College of Wooster are Pell Grant recipients. Most Pell Grants are awarded to students whose families make less than $30,000 annually.

Despite the representation of different income groups, we rarely talk about issues of class and socioeconomic diversity on campus. It’s more than not being able to afford Wooster’s comprehensive cost of 60K a year; it is the stress of making sure you can pay off your loans when you graduate. The lack of everyday discussion surrounding socioeconomic differences on campus allows assumptions about wealth to go unchecked and the problems that low-income students face here at Wooster to go unsolved.

There is a common misconception that College of Wooster students are financially well-off simply because they attend this private institution. However, there are students on campus that worry if they will be able to come back next semester due to bills owed to the school. This worry can cause huge stress on the mental health of first-generation and low-income students. You can see this effect on the low retention and 27.4 percent graduation rate of these particular students all over the nation.

In spite of all the hardships, I am thankful for my upbringing because it has given me a unique vantage point of many social, economic and political struggles that communities face when marginalized. Most importantly, it’s what drove me to continue my education: to become the first in my family to attend college and, in two years, to become the first to graduate.

Maryori Sosa, a Contributing Writer for the Voice, can be reached for comment at MSosa20@wooster.edu.

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