FLI at Stanford: The Voices of First-gen and Low-income Students
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FLI at Stanford: The Voices of First-gen and Low-income Students


I remember the first time I arrived on
campus like moving into a dorm where everyone knew the things that you were
supposed to bring, knew all the gadgets to make life convenient and I didn’t have
any of those things. Both my parents weren’t around to help
me apply for college or get ready with my tests and all of that was kind of
just what I had to navigate on my own. There’s been a few situations in which
people have underestimated me based on they’re experience seeing Latinos mainly
doing “low-skill jobs.” There’s a unique set of challenges that you face when
you either are low-income or the first in your family to come to college. There’s
like a whole language that you don’t have. It’s kind of like that moment when
you arrive and everyone knows what office hours is and you have no idea. When my mother was diagnosed with cancer I remember just feeling really, really
overwhelmed. And my mother made me promise that I wouldn’t, like take a year
off. And so I’m on campus and I’m going but I’m thinking about home, I’m working
a lot, I’m stressed out. Because I had that responsibility of making sure the
bills were paid at home, making sure they were paid on time. As a FLI alum of Stanford myself, I know a lot about some of the challenges that students face
here coming from a first-gen and/or low-income background, and I was both. I
had responsibilities to financially support my family, I was homeless as a
student for a quarter here and no one knew. I think transitioning from my background to being at Stanford, for me it was kind of alienating to not really
see anyone else with my experiences. I was in the foster care system starting
when I was 14 years old, so coming here and meeting a lot of kids who have grown up in traditional family homes their whole lives, and what they were
struggling with was like you know adjusting to learning how to do their
laundry or managing their own study schedule. Our students persist and
graduate at very similar rates to the rest of the population of Stanford
and they do just about as well academically, but what the research shows is that what they have to endure to make those achievements is
additional stress. Whenever I went in to take a test, it felt as if I kinda had my whole family was behind me. Because I needed to get a good grade, so then I
could get a good job, so that I could support my family. And so many people
have their hopes put on you, because not a lot of people from my community come
to Stanford, so everyone’s looking at me like “Oh, he’s the one that’s gonna make
it out! He’s the one that’s going to represent us.” For me as a FLI Alum from a
different generation it’s like low- income wasn’t a thing that we would
publicly claim and in fact there was so much stereotype and stigma about it that a lot of folks carried a lot of shame and fear around coming from that
background. Being a poor kid in America is really, really hard but at Stanford I recognized
the power of claiming that identity and creating a community around
it. Because there were so many things that I’d learned from my experiences growing up that weren’t things that I should be ashamed of. Like, I could be
my best self while also talking about that identity. I’m first-gen and came from a low-income background so one of the things I’m most proud of in life is
the work that I do. I’m so privileged to be able to work with the community that
I came from. It’s like it’s a cool thing to be FLI, right? It feels good. You’ve got
support, you’ve got resources and it’s hard, but it’s also empowering because
you’re doing it with all of these other wonderful people. What the office did is that it made me feel like, yes I belong here. The administration acknowledges my
identity as being the first in my family to go to college, my identity as someone
who comes from poverty and is now being thrust into this world that is primarily dominated by people from wealthier backgrounds. And it was really validating
and also gave me more confidence. We are working on this new group called
Fostering Connections, which is open to all students and the general theme is
the lack of a sense of home. I hope that Fostering Connections will grow to be a
big community of students and allies so fostering connections will grow to be a
big community of students and allies so that students who have been in foster care and who have been homeless and who have been in
non-traditional family backgrounds can see that this program is there for
them. Because that was the hope that I had when I came here. But I’m hoping for
us to all like, you know create a home for each other. With FLAN, the First-gen
and Low-income Alumni Network, what we’re trying to do is make it really easy for alums to provide mentorship and also create this community, in which we’re
able to come together even after we leave Stanford. So many students at
Stanford get through their time here because of the warmth and the love that’s at the core of this community and there’s like an immense gratitude. I
can’t imagine my time at Stanford without them.

About James Carlton

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4 thoughts on “FLI at Stanford: The Voices of First-gen and Low-income Students

  1. One of the most inspiring videos I've seen in a while. I relate to Jorge so much. I'm not nearly as talented or brilliant, but I greatly sympathize with the underestimation and "writing off" Latinos endure because of the "low skilled immigrant" stereotype. I probably grew up in a community much like his, and navigating the professional class as an outcast (utterly outside his depth) is something I also feel deep inside my soul.

  2. Very very powerful and raw. Honestly before learning more about FLI I wrote off Stanford as a place I shouldn't come or apply to Stanford because I was scared of how I would stick out like a sore thumb in a place were wealth is normal. Thank you for this great video because it has cemented my decision to apply REA and be confident and proud of it.

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