In the fifth year of existence for the national Alliance for the Low-Income and First-Generation Narrative (AL1GN) conference, The College of Wooster had the honor to earn the bid to host this academic year. Over sixty colleges and universities have participated in the first four years of its existence by sending students, faculty and staff to the conference at the host institutions. However, this year, when Wooster was hosting the conference, only three non-students showed up to the events to support the First-Generation Limited Income (FGLI) organizers who had worked so hard to organize it.
The weekend is solely dedicated to building community, sharing resources and collaborating with other institutions to present what is happening around the nation for first-generation and limited income (FGLI) students. I have attended every year while at Wooster, but only with other Wooster students. My sophomore year I had an informal discussion with a faculty member who stated that they would love to bring the AL1GN conference to Wooster, and that this was an eventual goal. I am a person with drive and motivation. I brought the conference to Wooster, thinking there would be this internal support immediately. The process was nearly a year long, including the intense and extensive application process, as well as discussions and emails with deans and other people that Savannah Sima ’23 and myself put together starting in May 2020. This was supposed to be, or at least I hoped it would be, the big break for FGLI students at Wooster. A national conference would secure us more resources, more visibility on the webpage, stable initiatives and, more importantly, a person that was dedicated to FGLI issues and students in contract and in person. This was wishful thinking.
Within four years at Wooster, I can count two things specifically meant for FGLI students that have been started by someone other than a student and that occurred more than once or were more permanent: the living learning suite in Luce [Hall] with Housing Coordinator Carly Jones and Dean of Students Shadra Smith’s help and then the First-Generation Fridays hosted by Dean Smith that happened during the 2018-19 academic year. This space helped students make friends, share snacks, work on homework and build community before other school events, such as athletic games. That is it to my knowledge, and as Scot Council’s First-Generation Limited Income Student Representative, I have a very vast knowledge about resources and programs on this campus for FGLI students. Does this mean I could possibly be leaving something out? Of course! However, I would seriously need to know why I have not heard of it by now and then probably assume it was not advertised well.
I know the game. I understand the sentiments of letting students speak and writing down concerns. I understand bureaucracy, legality and pivoting comments to make something be less direct when there is a critique. It has happened to me more times than I can count while being a student leader, especially while trying to advocate for FGLI students. I think what some people fail to realize is that it is super hard to do so when there is a not a community. I do not hold this against students, but against the institution. How can you expect there to be a community when there are not more than two institutional structures in place for FGLI students? These students are, statistically speaking, more often than not non-white, working more than one job, involved with a million things, figuring out college without mentors and potentially worrying about home. Yet, this work falls on students to create community. The theme of the danger of a single story at the conference was not used to emphasize a case by case basis, but rather that the institution needs to already be accounting for these nuances and intersectional identities in the FGLI umbrella by itself so people do not need to recount their trauma to prove that they are poor and need help. I figured more people would understand this as they attended AL1GN over April 9-11, a conference that has been in the works for nearly a year and involved support from people that are not exclusively students. However, only three people at Wooster who were not students showed up to even one session while FGLI students were hosting a nationally-known conference. The entire conference team was hurt, embarrassed and had low morale for the future of FGLI students on this campus. This conference was strategically planned for almost a year with intense marketing and efforts. However, things that were promised to us were never delivered and done last minute when the student team was finished with our end of promises.
My closing note on this is that if anyone reading this feels that they need to tell someone why they were busy and chose to not come … ask yourself why. Have you done enough for FGLI students BEYOND this conference? If so, we know it. This does not apply to you. If you have championed FGLI students and gone out of your way to help the community at large, we know it. The people who need to justify why they did not come, especially when a reason was not asked for, I want them to think about why they are stating it, especially if they are able to work from home with stable employment and income in a pandemic. I do not need to hear your personal reasons, the same way I do not want to constantly share my trauma. It is yours and not mine. Most FGLI students do not have that, and we needed people that weekend. We showed up. Students with dysfunctional families, with limited incomes, without stable housing and who are overworked and overtired of being let down still showed up for a community. Yet when we were asked, “Where is your administration? Your faculty? Your staff?” there was no one. We were embarrassed, discouraged and let down as the conference hosts because we did not realize that we needed to invite people who bonded with us over them also being FGLI when they went to undergrad to come to a national conference for FGLI students that was planned for almost a year.