Swarthmore FLI Council

What does it mean to be First Generation, Low-income @ Swarthmore College?

Well I am glad you asked. My name is Gaven Green, class of 2024. I consider myself fortunate enough to be a FLI student, a FLI intern, and a core member of FLI Council. During the Fall of 2022, I set out to encapsulate what it meant to be FLI at Swarthmore College. I interviewed five FLI students across all class years and created this digital ethnography to be published on our website!

I found a wonderfully diverse set of stories and opinions that I feel privileged to share with you today. While these may not be the opinions of FLI Council, we must value, uplift, and recognize the strength in all FLI stories. Listen to what these students have to offer and ask yourself how you can contribute!

When were we introduced to the concept of FLI?

Do we even like being called FLI?

Across American institutions of higher education, FLI students are categorized many different ways. You may have heard FGLI, First-in-Family, Questbridge scholars, high-need, and more. Oftentimes, marginalized, minority populations are stripped of autonomy over their identities. If we want to understand FLI as an identity, we have to ask how comfortable students are with the terms in the first place. Our identities are always more constructive and beneficial to our growth when we get to construct them, not when they’re ascribed to us by privileged, majority groups.

Can we truly belong on campuses like Swarthmore College?

According to the New York Times, in 2017 the median family income of a student from Swarthmore is $165,500, and 66% come from the top 20 percent. While the number of FLI students accepted by Swarthmore has increased overtime, a large majority of the student body live vastly different lives from FLI students. Can these two economic worlds be reconciled, or do FLI students feel like outsiders at their own school? 

As with all of the questions asked, the result will vary vastly by the individual. Remember: never let anyone tell you that you do not deserve a better life. FLI students are entitled to economic mobility.

What is the "FLI community?"

Dr. Lisa Nunn speaks extensively on the importance of belonging to the success of college students. In fact, the impact belonging has on student persistence, wellbeing, and happiness is one of the most thoroughly researched subjects in the study of higher education. And, a key part of belonging is students feeling like they belong to a community. If FLI students feel like they lack a community, or their community is lacking, it could have detrimental effects on graduation rates, student satisfaction, and student health.

But who creates the community? Who should be tasked with the upkeep? And can a FLI community be successful in the endless four year cycle of college students?

Unfortunately, FLI students still face many barriers to equity...

Many barriers FLI students face can be summed up by two words: under resourced.  Whether we’re just first generation, just low-income, or both, compared to our continuing generation and/or rich peers we lack economic capital to live as comfortably. These are some of the barriers we still face in 2022 at Swarthmore College.

While these are important to overcome and bring awareness to, we must be wary about feeding into deficit thinking. As Tara J. Yosso describes, “Deficit thinking takes the position that minority students and families are at fault for
poor academic performance because: (a) students enter school without the normative
cultural knowledge and skills; and (b) parents neither value nor support their child’s
education.” Always remember we, FLI students, are much more than the barriers we face and the forms of capital we ‘lack.’

So all-in-all, what does it truly mean to these students to be FLI?

Thank you for taking the time to listen to our stories. 

Special thanks to Gabby Cepeda, Nancy Vu, Narimen Zorgui, Marisa Musenga, and Julie Tan for allowing themselves to be vulnerable while sharing their stories in front of a camera. I am eternally grateful.

I, Gaven Green, hope that what I’ve gathered here helps illuminate the struggles FLI students are still facing at elite institutions like Swarthmore College. While I, nor any of the five students featured, can speak for all Swarthmore FLI students or FLI Council, I believe works like these help bring awareness and build our community stronger.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please reach out to me at gavengreenofficial@gmail.com