Op-Ed: FLIP: Confronting the challenges of socioeconomic class on campus

The first few weeks at Stanford can be overwhelming. From figuring out what a “discussion section” means to finding EBF on a map, you’ve got a lot on your proverbial plate.

But coming to campus is more than just learning new acronyms – it’s a shift to a totally new socioeconomic situation. This transition is particularly taxing in our residences, where class identities are most apparent. Maybe you’re the only student in your dorm that knows what the FAFSA is; maybe your roommate came to Stanford with suitcases full of designer clothes. Or maybe you were surprised when she asked you what your parents did, or when he invited you to a dinner in Palo Alto that you definitely couldn’t afford.

The disparity of wealth at Stanford can make students of all socioeconomic backgrounds feel isolated and frustrated. It might seem like there’s a certain silence and ignorance around class on campus, since having wealth appears to be the norm here. All of the cars and Macbooks and iPhone apps create a culture that can feel exclusive and alienating.

The good news is that there’s a group of students who understand what you’re going through. The First Generation Low Income Partnership, or FLIP, was created to end the silence around class at Stanford, and to create a supportive community for students who identify as first-generation and/or low-income students.

Student organizations and community centers have been supporting first-generation and low-income students for decades. But in recent years, students have been inspired to create a specific community centered around class. FLIP was established by a group of students who felt that their socioeconomic background played a major role in shaping their identity and perspective. Frustrated by the apparent lack of discussion and acknowledgement of class identities at Stanford, these students created a safe, open space to discuss and explore socioeconomic diversity at Stanford. Today, FLIP is a group where you can meet students with similar perspectives on class and college, and chat about the little things that seem too awkward to bring up with your friends and dormmates. We get what it’s like to have a roommate who can make you feel out of place.

But FLIP isn’t just for first-gen and/or low-income students. I was that roommate, the girl who was ignorant and insensitive. I had no idea what “QuestBridge” meant, and I didn’t consider how my actions and possessions might have made my roommate feel uncomfortable. It wasn’t until my junior year that I began to understand what class privilege was. I started to recognize that I had a class identity, and that I shouldn’t try so hard to hide it. Instead, I decided to work on being a better ally to friends who identify as low-income and/or first generation college students. I became more invested in combating classism on campus, and decided to get more involved in FLIP. I’m now on the leadership core, and I’m working toward raising awareness about class privilege among students who have it by organizing workshops and discussion groups.

We need to work toward a more comprehensive conversation about class on campus. It’s easy to think that because we all share the same lecture and dining halls, there’s no difference between us. Everyone experiences Stanford in very different ways based on our own experiences with money. Classism is pervasive, but it’s often subtle and seemingly harmless. Let’s learn together and create a more inclusive Stanford community.

–Holly Fetter ’13

If you want to know more about FLIP, please join our mailing list: we_the_flip@lists.stanford.edu. And if you want to learn more about class privilege, let’s talk: hfetter@stanford.edu.

  • j9valadez

    This is a wonderful article. I only wish FLIP was around when I was at Stanford 1977-1981. Besides the financial classism, I had to face the fact that my high school did not offer as many AP courses as many higher end or private schools, so my “evidence of advanced skill potential” had to come through my valedictorian status, standardized tests, teacher recommendations, and some JC classes I took around being a four sport athlete. Arriving at Stanford and facing all the wealth, fame, and advanced high school education was extra tough on me, especially since I wanted to become an engineer. I remember my horror and constant frustration having to take Calculus for the first time with hundreds of other kids who already had ejoyed a full year of it in high school. There was no one to talk to and even the aides wanted to spend time with students with experience. But I perservered and graduated with four Varsity letters and a BSEE, always sidestepping and dancing around issues of class (and in my case, race and sexuality as well). Thank goodness I found solace in my teams and in a small group of freshman dormates (Lagunita), some of whom have remained lifelong friends, but if a group like FLIP had been around, perhaps I would have found calm and self-assurance sooner.

  • not fooling me

    #richgirlproblems ? While I appreciate the sentiment, this patriarchal attitude carries implicit costs that only led to further stigma revolving around the identification of oneself as lower-middle to lower class.

  • pol_incorrect

    Mmm, given where the author comes from and the tone of the article this seems to me just another of those initiatives to gain pro gay zealots. Be careful people!

  • http://www.facebook.com/alfredo.martinez.jr Alfredo Martinez