Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Swarthmore continues to its efforts to support low-income and other disadvantaged students this semester. Shortly before the semester began, the college published a list of administrators, professors, and staff who share experiences that may resonate with these students. The college has also created a summer bridge program for underrepresented students aiming to pursue a degree in STEM fields, and allowed students with extenuating circumstances to remain on campus over break.
One of the deans who has made themselves available as a resource to students is Associate Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Development Lili Rodriguez. Rodriguez, who was a first-generation college student herself, said that she had difficulty finding support when she began studying at Williams College. “Not because there weren’t individuals that would have been willing to help me,” she said, “I just didn’t know what I didn’t know.”
This sentiment was echoed by several students who spoke with The Daily Gazette. Katherine Galvis Rodriguez ‘17 said, “I don’t know what resources are available to me, because they’ve never been offered to me, or I’ve never heard of them. I don’t know what I can ask for, or how much I should ask for.”
Talking about class at Swarthmore is difficult, said Barbara Pham ‘17, secretary of SOLIS, a low-income student group that formed this year. Pham said she felt “very isolated from the general campus” when she first entered Swarthmore, because she had a very different high school experience. “Back home I never really felt poor. […] I felt like I became poor when I came here.”
While Swarthmore provides financial aid to students, aid packages often don’t cover all of the costs of attending Swarthmore, which can include everything from social trips off-campus to housing during externships. “Philly is great easy access,” Galvis Rodriguez said, “but you have to pay twelve dollars every time.”
Students who spoke with the Gazette mentioned small and large changes the school can make. Textbook subsidies or more copies kept on reserve in the library was a common complaint, but the general culture of Swat is also a problem, they said. “It’s very stifling to feel like you can’t talk about your own experience,” said Pham.
Galvis Rodriguez praised professors and administrators who have opened up about their own experiences. “It’s really helpful to know that [they’ve] been through this,” she said, “and know what it’s like not only to go through college having this background, but to be at Swat having this background.”
Pham and Galvis Rodriguez referenced a need for student support networks in addition to institutionalized systems. “We didn’t really find any way to discuss the social aspect of being a low income student at Swarthmore,” said SOLIS co-founder Delfin Buyco ‘17. “We hope SOLIS becomes that sort of space.”
“The key is to make all resources accessible and approachable,” said Rodriguez. “We’ve made changes to orientation to highlight resources in interactive ways to both parents and students.” According to Rodriguez, The Dean’s Office is also joining Twitter, and is planning a series of conversations with students in order to develop closer relationships.
“Looking back on it all,” said Rodriguez, “I wish I had let more people in and sought out a larger mentoring network when I was a college student. No one should navigate this journey on their own and at Swat, they don’t have to.”
is the deans office still offering free tickets to go to philly via septa? the septa is prohibitively pricy for students! (and btw, the service is so not worth 12 dollars round trip)
This was a huge problem for me when I was at Swarthmore. Katherine and Barbara express really well how I felt, especially regarding the need for student support networks. You need a space where you can share your experiences and have them normalized, so you don’t feel like you’re alone while trying to buy insurance for your parents on the exchange or basically trying to parent your younger siblings from far away. I had to take care of all of this while also dealing with the scars of childhood physical and sexual abuse and it only made my friends uncomfortable if I brought any of it up — my friends told me to talk to a therapist, my therapist told me to talk to a dean, and it just felt like everyone was trying to pawn me off on someone else. These are obviously personal problems and I’m eternally grateful for everything Swarthmore did do for me, but there’s a huge disconnect between all the talk of social justice and supporting disadvantaged students within the student body itself. I would have loved to have an organization like i20 for low income and first gen students. I was amazed by their sense of community and how Jen helped navigate all of the issues they could have. It felt to me like I was also in a different (upper middle class) country, but my problems were chalked up to the typical growing pains of adjusting to college.