Staff Writer Abi Peters attends IvyG, an annual conference for first-gen low-income college students.
“Hi! My name’s Abi, my pronouns are she/her/hers, I’m a freshman at Columbia and I’m here because” I must have made that introduction so many times this past weekend, yet I could never quite workout how to finish it. Why did I decide to go to IvyG?
IvyG is an annual conference for first-generation low-income University students not, as the title may imply, solely from the Ivy League but from many colleges across the country. This year it was to be held at Princeton. So, I fit the bill, but I knew I was there for more than that. There was something I wanted to gain from the weekend, but it wasn’t until I returned to campus on the Sunday night that I could truly articulate what that was.
But first, let’s go back to the beginning. We left from campus on Friday afternoon, suitcases in hand ready for the NJ Transit. The eight of us were a mixture of CC, SEAS and GS students and most of us hadn’t been to an IvyG conference before so had no idea what to expect. I was imagining solemn discussions about the difficulties of being first generation students on prestigious campuses mixed in with awkward network lunches with me hiding in a corner overwhelmed. It’s safe to say I was proved wrong.
On the first day we walked in to the luggage drop off point to see massive balloons spelling out IvyG and a photobooth with first gen written in big letters across the backdrop. It was a small thing but already the tone was set for the weekend: this was going to be a time for us to embrace our identity as FGLI students. To be proud of it.
That evening we attended discussion groups with students from all different schools and finally it felt like I was able to connect with so many who shared my experiences. We were so different, and came from a vast variety of backgrounds, yet our first-generation identity connected us so powerfully.
The next day began on a difficult note: the much-discussed president of Princeton’s opening address. After speaking at length about the need to empower FGLI students, to bring more into academia, he began to tell us repeatedly not to forget that we were largely at our colleges out of luck. This struck a chord with many as being the opposite of what the conference was about. We were there to remind ourselves and others that we didn’t receive admission due to statistics or because we ticked a box but because of our incredibly hard work. It was painful to hear the President deny us that pride in what was meant to be an uplifting address to open the conference.
However, the rest of the day was more than what I was hoping for. We were able to network with various businesses, although the career fair was finance-heavy, and we returned to our original discussion groups to talk about the hurdles that we face at our colleges. About dealing with double identities; being a different person at school to who we are at home and how to navigate spaces that were not made for students like us.
On the final day of the conference, as we listened to an incredible closing speech by a first gen Muslim woman of color about her experience at college, I finally realized why I came to IvyG. It was because having completed my first semester at Columbia I felt that there was something missing, that I hadn’t been able to connect my life back home with my life on campus. That my own identity was a paradox.
I needed to find a community that understood me, and I found that community at IvyG. I made some brilliant friends, from all over America and the world, and left with a sense of empowerment. Columbia and other colleges still have a long way to go in making sure their institutions cater for all students, but I hope that, together, we can begin to propel them forward on that journey.
Students via Wikimedia.