The talk of the social media arena this week is the recent launch of Columbia University Class Confessions, an anonymous Facebook page created by the university’s First-Generation Low-Income Partnership (FLIP) as a space for first-generation and low-income students to discuss issues related to the socioeconomic disparities they experience as students at Columbia. The site claims to have modeled its page after similar pages at Stanford and the University of Chicago, and also includes a link to the newly inspired Brown University version. While this type of “confessions” page is not a new concept, this one in particular is receiving quite a bit of attention due to the very personal and intense nature of some of the posts as they relate to inequities; topics range from struggles to pay for food or find employment to depression, abuse, and homelessness.
The inception of FLIP is part of a growing trend of grassroots efforts at some of the nation’s most selective schools to recognize the challenges faced by first-generation and low-income students, and to create supportive outlets for those who experience them. In a recent “first-gen” dinner co-hosted by faculty members at Princeton University, students had the opportunity to share stories and make connections based on their experiences – some discussed their parents’ inability to visit them in college, while others talked about their feelings of being ill-prepared for such a rigorous institution. Some creative Princeton students have even worked to develop the Princeton Hidden Minority Council, aimed at creating a community for students who identify as first-generation or low-income in a place where they often feel like a “hidden” or overlooked minority.
This recent outpouring of commentary on the low-income and first-generation experience seems to have been inspired in part by the 1vyG conference, held at Brown University in March to connect hundreds of first-generation Ivy League students with the mission of creating communities of support and advocating for change. The organization claims to be aimed at “strengthening and empowering the first-generation college student network,” and the conference featured keynote addresses by Co-Founder of QuestBridge Anna McCullough and Executive Director of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative Eric Waldo.
According to the research published by 1vyG, nearly 50% of the college-going population is first-generation (the first in their family to attend college), and roughly 24% identify as both first-generation and low-income. This means that if our country hopes to operate a leading educational system that offers equitable access for students of all backgrounds, colleges and universities are going to have to drastically re-think the way they support this growing group of students. So while the “confessions” page may have started as an outlet for discussion of students’ struggles, it stands to rapidly become a platform for radical change.