The Swarthmore Organization of Low-Income Students is a newly-founded group on campus that aims to bring together first-generation college students and students from low-income backgrounds to create a community in which students can guide and support each other at Swarthmore. In addition to serving the low-income community, SOLIS hopes to be a forum for discussion about class.
SOLIS was founded by sophomores Cat Velez-Perry and Delfin Buyco in response to what they felt was a lack of a supportive community for first-generation and low-income background college students, as well as lack of discussion about the issue of class.
“There needs to be a way for lower income people to talk about issues that pertain to them; to also voice their opinions on other issues as well on campus,” said Buyco.
“I just noticed that unless I’m talking to a part of the administration, there’s no one here I can really talk to about being low income, because everyone always acts like it’s not a part of your identity,” said Velez-Perry. “People talk about intersectionality like, ‘I’m queer! I’m Hispanic! I’m Black! I’m Asian! I’m this, I’m that,’ but everyone totally leaves out class like it doesn’t exist, but it exists. It’s just something I feel like people need to talk about more.”
In addition to fostering support and discussions between students, the group is planning to expand its presence and resources around the college by involving faculty and administration. Buyco saidthat SOLIS hopes to connect with the financial aid office and set up help workshops for students who otherwise would have to go through the process of applying for aid by themselves. Financial aid staff may also be invited to a panel where they can answer questions about how the aid process works, as well as how the aid package is determined for each student, according to Velez-Perry. Other plans include the creation of a list of resources available to students in need, establishing a platform on which low-income students can raise their concerns to the general community and forming sibling programs and panel discussions where first-generation or low-income upperclassmen, alumni and faculty can advise first-year students through problems.
“We wanted to make a club that we wanted ourselves our freshman year,” Buyco said. “We wanted to do something like that to show lower-income freshmen that there’s such a community.”
The eventual goal of SOLIS is to become a force for social outreach in Chester. Velez-Perry envisions SOLIS partnering with other social justice groups already established on campus and working to help high school students in Chester with college essays, SAT preparation and understanding financial aid.
“We hope that down the line that SOLIS members can also be part of that social justice [outreach] especially because they themselves have experienced … what it means to be low-income,” said Buyco. “Hopefully we can give insight to a lot of the social justice groups here.”
The administration is lending SOLIS its support as a part of a focused outreach towards first-generation and lower income students according to Karen Henry, dean of first-year students.
“I think this population of students has always had support from various different pockets of the administration just because there’s a lot of overlap,” said Henry. “But this year we’ve tried to do more of a concerted effort and to expand the number of administrative planned workshops and supporting student initiatives on their own. So one of the things we’re doing is working with the student group to help them get organized and to provide support for them.”
Velez-Perry noted that another major initiative being discussed by faculty and administration is a bridge program, which would give opportunities for students to come to Swarthmore and take classes over the summer to get acclimated to the academic intensity and class structures they may not have experienced during high school. SOLIS would be called upon as an advising body to explain what would be good for the program.
The group had its first open meeting on Friday, September 26 and was met with positive response.
“We asked the people there, ‘What do you guys want from this group? What do you guys envision SOLIS to be?’ Quite amazingly, it hit spot on with our mission statement,” said Buyco.
“Some of these things me and Delfin didn’t even think about, but people were just shouting things out and they were really excited and serious about it,” said Velez-Perry. “We had an IC intern there. We had someone who was working in the admissions office. Someone who was working with the Lang Center.”
SOLIS originally met as a closed group but now will hold open meetings every Friday at 8 p.m.