Recently, a coalition of students called the Students’ Class Issues Alliance (SCIA) publicly proposed that Vassar consider instituting a center for low-income students. Similar in scope and construction to the Women’s Center or the LGBTQ Center, this new community organization would act as a resource and support group for students from low-income households.
The SCIA has argued that students at Vassar who come from low-income families are put at a disadvantage because of a lack of institutional support. The center would not only provide an accessible liaison between students and the financial aid office, but would also offer an emotional support system. Students who represent first generation college-goers may have a hard time seeking advice from their parents when writing papers or studying for final exams. Additionally, many students struggle in navigating the complications of financial aid. Especially those who are the first in their families to attend college have expressed difficulties in receiving adequate advice from the Office of Financial Aid.
Although we understand the the proposal is preliminary and subject to change, we at The Miscellany News support the SCIA’s efforts in the creation of a center for low-income students. We imagine that such a center would come at small cost, be primarily student-operated, and require only minimal oversight, perhaps from a single junior administrator. The greatest anticipated complication may be from a lack of extra space for a meeting location, but we believe that appropriate compromises should be made to meet the needs of all students.This tangential issue alone should not prevent low-income students from receiving an important support system.
The establishment of this center might help the low-income community at Vassar in several important ways. For one, the center would act as a long term extension of the Transitions program. The program, which runs for three days before the start of freshman orientation and is aimed at first-generation college students and students from low-income households. Unfortunately, it has a capped attendance and is scheduled during the fall athletics preseason, and as a result it does not accommodate the needs of all new students. Thus, a significant number of students seeking support are excluded from this valuable experience, as an overflow of applications has resulted in many freshmen being turned away. A center for low-income students would provide a physical space for the Transitions program, which would facilitate freshmen meeting with their peer advisors all year long, as well as provide an opportunity for students who were unable to attend the program to meet and get support from those who did. Transitioning into and happily functioning within the Vassar community it not something that happens after one brief program during freshmen year. Also, with the unstable economic state of the country and recent natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, the possibility of suddenly shifting income levels is higher than ever. In a school environment with students from so many financial and economic backgrounds, the support offered by such a center is valuable throughout all four years at Vassar, not just during orientation.
Additionally, issues of economic status are among those least-discussed outside of the classroom at Vassar. So many courses focus on the implications of socio-economic status, but few acknowledge that economic diversity is a part of the Vassar community as well. A center for low-income students would aid in destigmatizing this topic by bringing visibility and giving a voice to this part of the student body. However, it is important to note the difference between a low-income student center and other identity organizations on campus, such as the ALANA and LGBTQ Centers. The current SCIA proposal tentatively suggests the ALANA Center and low-income student center share a director, similar to the current relationship between the LGBTQ Center and the Women’s Center. We at The Miscellany News feel that to closely link a low-income student center to any other minority group would be an oversimplification of either organization’s purpose. A specific economic position does not necessarily follow one’s social, racial, or gender identity. While a low-income student’s center would probably work closely with many other identity organizations through collaborations, its mission should remain wholly separate from these existing resources.
However, although we at The Miscellany News believe that this low-income student center would be valuable for the community, we think it is important that the student body excessively compartmentalize itself. We recognize that some issues within different subsets of a community are best discussed internally, but we firmly believe that we as a college must remain conscious of our student body’s intersectionality, and that a healthy community communicates across socioeconomic, racial, sexual and gender boundaries. If we begin to isolate ourselves into niche organizations, then Vassar’s extraordinary diversity may become meaningless. In fact, we hope that the center encourages conversation about topic such as socioeconomic status and higher education, that the center fulfill its plans to host teach-ins open to the entire student body.
The creation of a center for low-income students would substantially benefit members of the student body by providing an official space to build community. The center would provide a place for discourse and guidance, it would extend the Transitions program past the beginning of the school year, and bring visibility to economic issues on campus, all of which would come at little cost. We hope that the Vassar Student Association, to whom this proposal was made several weeks ago, and the Vassar administration will work closely with members of the SCIA to make this idea a reality.
—The Staff Editorial represents the opinion of at least 2/3 of the outgoing Editorial Board.