Stanford’s commitment to financial aid and diversity has attracted students from many backgrounds to apply for admission. However, students can attest: the story doesn’t end at admission. After the long, grueling application process, surviving rigorous Stanford academics is yet another battle. Though all admits are claimed as the best and brightest, certain students tend to fare better than others.
Background has proved to play an important role in a student’s ability to do well in college. In the past, students and faculty alike have argued that admits of different backgrounds would need different resources. As a result, community centers emerged over several decades to support these students, ranging from the Black Community Services Center (BCSC) and El Centro Chicano to the Native American Community Center (NACC) and the Asian American Activities Center (A3C).
However, while there are ample resources for students of color, Stanford has long overlooked the role that socioeconomic status or class play in a student’s development in a college setting.
The editorial board supports the Office of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs’ effort to include socioeconomic differences in the diversity discussion. The office is searching for a new associate dean and director of diversity and first-generation programs, a hire that will help more students navigate their Stanford experiences. The position replaces a similar one cut in 2009 over budget concerns. An anonymous donor has come forward to fund the new position for five years.
Issues of socioeconomic status are often thrown into the same messy pile as issues of race. While both affect students’ college experiences, socioeconomic levels have a different effect than race. Although ethnic community centers are sufficient for helping students bridge academic and social gaps, people often overlook the fact that socioeconomic status transcends racial boundaries.
At first glance, African-Americans and Africans appear to be “covered” by the BCSC, the Latino community by El Centro Chicano, the Native Americans by the NACC and Asians-Americans by the A3C. It is easy to conclude that the only minority group that the new dean would be helping are socioeconomically disadvantaged Caucasians.
But issues of class and race do not intermingle so clearly.
The creation of the dean’s position marks Stanford’s acknowledgement that rifts beyond race exist in the overall Stanford community. First-generation and low-income students need to overcome many issues that don’t necessarily have anything to do with race.
A production by STAMP, the social protest theatre company, in spring 2010 brought to light such challenges. Soliciting monologues from anonymous students from the first-generation and low-income communities, the play “Wealth of Words” highlighted the challenges that these students face when trying to fit in with their peers. The script included horror stories ranging from discriminatory remarks made in IHUM discussions about the poor to the hesitation of taking unpaid internships because of financial difficulties to the frustration of lacking parental connections because of their first-generation status. These are only some examples of unique obstacles that first-generation and low-income students deal with.
The population of low-income and first-generation students is also growing, possibly due to recent financial aid initiatives. According to Dean of Admission Richard Shaw, 15.2 percent of Stanford undergraduates are first-generation. Additionally, 14 percent of undergraduates in 2008-2009 received a federal Pell Grant, which is often used as a standard for assessing low-income status.
Stanford is making important strides toward improving the undergraduate experience with the creation of the associate dean and director of diversity and first-generation job. He or she will be an invaluable resource. If we wish to continue to uphold the founding mission of the University, the concerns of first-generation students must remain a priority.