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Being the first to go: Part II

Editor’s note: This piece is the second half of a two-part series on the experience of first generation/low income students at Stanford. The first half was published in last Wednesday’s Daily. 

Two weekends ago, 14 students represented Stanford at the 1vyG conference at Yale University. The conference, designed to give a voice to first-generation and/or low-income college students, brought together over 400 students from 18 universities across the country, including the Ivy League. In conversations with students at the conference, I learned where Stanford stands in its support of first-generation and/or low-income students.

Only a handful of the schools represented at the conference had something like our Opportunity Fund, a fund for students who need money that financial aid cannot offer — such as funds to fly back home in an emergency, or money to buy professional clothes to wear to interviews. Some of the schools that did offer such a fund required that students treat it as a loan and pay it back.

Additionally, only a few schools offered a version of our Welcome Grant, a $2,000 grant given to low-income freshmen over the course of their first year to help them cover the necessary expenses of transitioning to college. Stanford adopted the grant after Harvard College announced it would be offering their its version of it, the Start-Up Grant, last year.

Even having free laundry helps.

But there’s more that needs to be done. To give first-generation and low-income students a greater sense of belonging on campus, Stanford needs to do the following:

1. Keep residences and dining halls open during all breaks. For some of us, Stanford is our safe haven; outside of it, we might not have a place to call home. Because we are not allowed to remain on campus during winter break, for example, some of us deal with food insecurity and not having a place to sleep. This leaves us anxiously counting down the days until we are allowed to move back in.

2. Build a community center for first-generation and/or low-income students that is comparable in size and quality to the cultural community centers on campus. Fifteen percent of undergraduates identify as being the first person in their family to go to college, compared to the 16 percent who identify as Latinx and 6 percent who identify as African-American, two groups who have their own community centers on campus. We deserve a space, too.

3. Expand the Welcome Grant to cover all four years, even if it is at the reduced amount of $500 per quarter, instead of the $2,000 total for the year. The Welcome Grant allows us to cover expenses some of us otherwise cannot afford, such as textbooks, bike repairs and flights back home.

4. Gradually expand the Leland Scholars Program. The Leland Scholars Program brings 60 Stanford freshmen to campus the month before NSO and gives them a toolkit to help them transition to college. Students enroll in a chemistry course and a writing course and take midterms and finals and write papers, which helps them better prepare for the challenges of fall quarter.

Additionally, Leland Scholars enroll in a one-unit class after the summer during fall and winter quarters. This helps them maintain their connections to their fellow Scholars, giving them an unparalleled sense of community in their first few months here. However, as mentioned, 15 percent of students identify as first-generation and/or low-income; this means that about 260 freshmen are first-generation, while the Leland Scholars Program can only accommodate 60 students. Expanding the program in a way that does not dilute its impact on the students who participate will give more first-generation students a community and sense of agency that will carry them through their four years here.

5. Offer academic support for first-generation students pursuing humanities and arts, as well as STEM fields. In general, people already tend to pursue “techie” fields more than they pursue “fuzzy” ones at Stanford. However, this is even more so the case with first-generation students, because majoring in philosophy, for example, does not necessarily guarantee the financial stability we need. First-generation students often do not have a safety net to fall back on, and thus feel pressured to pursue tracks that promise some sort of tangible payoff in the future. By holding conferences geared toward such students to help them navigate their studies, we can increase socioeconomic diversity in the humanities and arts. 

At convocation, Dean Richard Shaw told us we are all here for a reason. All of us. Help us level the playing field. Help us prove him right.


Contact Amanda Rizkalla at amariz ‘at’


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Amanda Rizkalla

Amanda Rizkalla

Amanda Rizkalla is a sophomore from East Los Angeles studying English and Chemistry. In addition to writing for the Daily, she is involved with the Stanford Medical Youth Science Program and is a Diversity Outreach Associate in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. She loves to cook, bake, read, write and bike around campus.