Recent months have brought low-income students’ straits to the attention of the greater campus and administration. Bwog Editor in Chief Taylor Grasdalen reports on the issue of food accessibility and what Columbia University students are doing to fix it.
Two weeks ago, the Columbia First-Generation Low-Income Partnership (FLIP) launched a campaign to promote their “Microfund,” intended to assist Columbia students with the costs of meeting relatively everyday needs. The “microgrants” indeed start small: a meal ($10), cold medicine ($15), and psychiatric care copay ($20); larger donations can afford students a week of groceries ($50), their cap and gown ($55), winter clothing ($100), or a visit to the emergency room ($250). As of today, $3,560 has been raised — surpassing the original $2,500 goal — and will begin to be granted on the basis of applications come fall 2015.
FLIP was founded only this past fall 2014, the product of many cross-University students’ shared concerns about the status and understanding — or lack thereof — they received from Columbia. Toni Airaksinen, BC ’18, and Maureen Lei, CC ’15 (though a junior graduating a year early), tell me that there exist “significant constituencies of low-income and first-generation students” presently underserved by the University. Not only is there a vastly “assumed financial ability,” but plenty of “assumed privilege.” These assumptions tax those FLIP seeks to represent, and this has played out popularly on their Columbia University Class Confessions Facebook page, where students submit anonymous confessions detailing their financial and social burdens.
“This isn’t normal,” Maureen says. She and Toni break down just how not-normal Columbia is with its (assumed) commonplace wealth and attitudes: most people in the United States are not of this stratum, do not have hundreds of dollars to spend on clothes and coffees and dinner, do not have a few thousand to spend on “travel.” Toni relays a story about one friend this fall who refused to believe that Toni couldn’t afford to take a quick vacation to Washington, D.C.; the friendship deteriorated with the onslaught of socioeconomic division between them. Maureen, unlike Toni, is not considered a low-income student and is not the first in her family to attend college, but relates instead to the cultural isolation many students feel, an isolation she sees as intersecting with FLIP and its goals. She is the daughter of Chinese parents, whom she describes as “social climbers,” highly educated yet thoroughly traditional; Maureen’s first language is not English, and she shares anecdotes about growing up with non-western eating utensils and not knowing “the difference between a cheeseburger and a hamburger.”