Editor in Chief
Last weekend, The College of Wooster had the honor of hosting the 5th Annual AL1GN National Conference, a conference series dedicated to empowering first-generation and limited-income (FGLI) students across the United States. According to the group’s website, Alliance for the Low-Income and First-Generation Narrative, or AL1GN, began in 2015 as a coalition of FGLI students and the staff who supported them. Since then, hundreds of students, faculty, staff and administration from dozens of schools and organizations have joined together to create a forum where FGLI students can take control of their own narrative while also learning about new programming and ideas they can bring back to their institutions. Prior conferences were held at well-known schools like Barnard College, George Washington University and University of Virginia before arriving at Wooster.
The theme of the 2021 conference, “The Dangers of a Single Story,” was inspired by writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk of the same name and meant to highlight the nuanced experiences of FGLI students and the different ways they manifest during their time in college. “There is a danger in the single story of the FGLI experience that prevents students’ unique needs from being meant,” a description on Wooster’s AL1GN webpage read.
The conference, held over Zoom this year, was organized by a team of Wooster FGLI students who chose the themes, workshop topics and speakers, while taking on different roles to ensure the event’s success. Annelisea Brand ’21 and Savannah Sima ’23 were co-directors of the conference, a position that included creating the original application to host. The other students involved were Zoie Bills ’21, Camryn Bragg ’21, Angela Danso Gyane ’21, César Lopez ’21 and Maresa Taté ‘21 who contributed to marketing, technology support and programming while also presenting or moderating individual workshops.
On April 9, the conference kicked off with the opening session which featured two keynote speakers: Dr. Charmaine Troy, first-generation manager at Georgia Tech, and Dr. Lindsay Romasanta, director of student success programs at University of California, San Diego. Both scholars spoke about their own experiences as FGLI students and connected to the theme of the weekend, dangers of a single story. Following the opening, there was a session for BIPOC FGLI students facilitated by William Washington, founder of the Washington Wellness Institute in Cleveland, and community bonding events for attendees.
The following day featured eight different workshop sessions, presented or moderated by Wooster students, that conference-goers could sign up for. Topics included accessibility, underrepresentation of FGLI in college, undocumented student experiences, international student narratives, being queer and FGLI, the effects of COVID-19 on FGLI students and student mobility. Attendees of the latter event, led by Brand, who also serves as Scot Council’s FGLI representative, learned about the inequality that exists for FGLI students on college campuses. On average, they work more hours than non-FGLI students and cannot always find a job on campus due to competition for more “desirable” jobs, like teaching apprenticeships, research assistants, resident assistants and tour guides. Brand discussed the problems with work study and how qualifying off-campus jobs, usually pink and blue collar, require important skills but ones that are not always valued on a resumé, or meet employer’s (often classist) expectations. The problem is especially prominent at Wooster. Referencing The New York Times college mobility project, we rank near the bottom compared to peer schools in admitting students from families making less than $20,000, and the ability for a “poor student to become a rich adult.” FGLI students often have to take all the aspects of the college search into their own hands, so Brand provided an online resource — Swift Student — that is helpful in preparing financial aid forms.
The final day of the conference included a networking event for attendees and a closing session presented by Brand and Sima, with Washington serving as keynote speaker. Afterward, Sima reflected on the success of the event. “I am incredibly happy with the ideas shared during our Queer FGLI program and Following First-Gen Orgs Across Campuses program. Staff, faculty and students showed up from other institutions to share the ways in which they have supported FGLI students,” Sima said. “Our keynote speakers went above and beyond with their own narrative experiences and research, and we were happy with the engagement, positive attitude and passion everyone brought to AL1GN.”
Olivia Proe ’21, president of Scot Council, commended the Wooster students, several of whom serve in student government, on their tireless effort to plan the conference. “It took months of planning for our members to host an event with nearly 60 other institutions, and they still had the same amount of engagement as if it had been in person which really speaks to their commitment to the Wooster community,” Proe said.
Unfortunately, Sima and the rest of the team were disappointed in the lack of presence from Wooster administration. “The absence of any administrators or outreach from them in any form was incredibly disheartening. We couldn’t even get the College’s social media to consistently repost our conference itinerary or AL1GN materials while they were reposting plenty of other events put on by other organizations,” Sima explained. “This refusal to acknowledge AL1GN was something the AL1GN executive board and other attending faculty and staff noticed.”