The fifth annual 1vyG Conference, held last weekend at Princeton University, saw the greatest number of delegates from the School of General Studies in attendance in the conference’s history, bringing to light the nuances of the first-generation, low-income community that exist within Columbia’s entire undergraduate community to the forefront of student discussion, and placing emphasis on the need for diversity within student mobilization and advocacy.
Since its first conference in 2015, the 1vyG Conference has been the largest gathering of FGLI students from selective schools across the country. This year’s conference theme, “From Moment to Movement: Capitalizing on our FLI Experiences to become Agents of Change in Our Communities,” focused on promoting student mobilization and advocacy through various school-specific events, in hopes of continuing advocacy at the delegates’ home institutions.
The conference itself saw the inclusion of a diverse group of FGLI students from the University due to the Columbia delegation’s push for increased participation. Compared to previous years, the delegation included a larger number of students who are not directly involved with campus advocacy groups such as First-Generation, Low-Income Partnership, while students from GS comprised forty percent of the Columbia delegation. Barnard sent its own delegation.
Campus Ambassador Miguel Yepes, SEAS ’20, has attended the past three conferences and said he was excited by this year’s efforts to expand the Columbia delegation to include more FGLI students.
“There is always people that want to help,” Yepes said. “Sometimes they aren’t 100% informed—but once they leave, they are energized. Once they know what organizations [are there], once they know who is doing what work, it's always a fantastic way to bring people into the fold. I was one of those people.”
As an ambassador, Yepes pushed for higher GS participation in discussions, given that GS students face unique financial barriers on Columbia’s campus. On average, GS students receive less substantial financial aid than Columbia undergraduates, leading many students to depend on loans to finance their education.
In the school planning sessions where students discussed institution-specific issues, GS students also spoke about issues regarding food and housing insecurity that came to the surprise of most Columbia College and School of Engineering and Applied Science students. Students at GS are not guaranteed university housing, unlike undergraduates at the other two schools.
Roberto Uribe, GS ’20 and a member of FLIP, found that the delegation at 1vyG made an active effort to include GS voices in line with FLIP’s own values.
“In any other club I’ve been to, they don’t reach out to the GS community. FLIP does an amazing job at including GS voices and so it was good to see that we were part of the delegation that was present at the 1vyG conference,” Uribe said.
Paola Cruz, GS ’20, was also thankful to have FGLI spaces at Columbia that were inclusive of GS voices. While she said that she recognizes that Columbia has a long way to go in recognizing FGLI issues within the GS population, the conference provided the space for students to mobilize.
“I was a transfer student coming from community college, where most people there are non-traditional, so we [had] those spaces,” Cruz said. “Coming to such a big school like Columbia as a low-income student it can be intimidating to be in that space alone.”
The emphasis on student activism in this year’s conference also inspired Barnard Student Ambassador, Iasha Khan, BC ’20, to extend programming into a post-conference meeting and provide more opportunities for collaboration between Columbia and Barnard FGLI communities. While she recognizes the differences in resources on both campuses, she anticipates more collaboration between the school to assess the varying needs.
“My main goal is to not let the fire die. You can go to these conferences and get pumped up, but once you get back to campus you’re back to school, work, etc.,” Khan said. “I want to have more programs on campus that are catered to the FGLI communities and to really bring the knowledge that we learned at the conference back here, because that’s the main goal.”
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Roberto Uribe was not present at the conference. Spectator regrets this error.