Benavides: I have hope that more FGLI students will change our campus for the better

Austin Benavides, Reporter

It was my first winter at Northwestern, and in a way, it was the first real winter that I ever felt coming from a sunny region like California.

The cold was brutal, and it cut through my cheap coat and filled my shoes with wet muck. I didn’t have a nice winter coat or winter boots because for the first few months on campus, I couldn’t afford them.

But luckily, I had heard from some friends that Student Enrichment Services offered free coats, scarves and reimbursements on winter boots. It wasn’t much compared to the Canada Goose coats that I saw parading down Sheridan, but it was enough for me.

After donning myself in appropriate attire, I had an important realization. Northwestern is dominated by wealth. Whether it be the wealth of its endowment or its predominantly wealthy student body, money is at the heart of the campus’ appearance as an elite institution. And as a first-generation, low-income student, it felt like I didn’t fit into that “elite” appearance.

Offices like Student Enrichment Services help bridge the gap for students who can’t afford many of the resources offered by parts of the University, and were vital for me feeling like I have a place on campus.

But what became my greatest support on campus was the FGLI community that I had luckily found pretty early on.

I found a group of students who related to me on a class level and had a clear understanding of the difficulties we face being poorer than our peers. Friends would text me when they heard any rumor about free food being offered in Shepard or Harris Hall. I’d be the first to know if a random student group was offering a free bowling day nearby.

These opportunities may not appear that important to some, but they represented to me an invitation into the greater Northwestern community that I had been waiting to receive since first setting foot on campus.

To FGLI students who are setting foot on campus, or logging in, for the first time this fall, my advice would be to not be afraid by your preconceptions of what campus may be.

The struggles you’ll face the first year aren’t struggles you need to face alone. For every doubt, insecurity and disillusionment you encounter, I am almost certain there are at least a dozen other students who feel or felt the same way.

Another piece of advice is to learn to be comfortable advocating for more resources from the University. With the amount paid for tuition every year, it would make sense for the University to fully support their students equally, but as of now, that’s not the case.

Many student groups on campus are still inaccessible for poorer students, so when you become a Northwestern student, advocate — and chances are things will change.

Even though I’ve only been at Northwestern for two years, I’ve seen great work done by groups like the Northwestern QuestBridge Scholars Network in demanding a fair seat at the table for FGLI students, but the work isn’t done.

Economic class will be an inevitable distinction that you will feel on campus, but by building on the work of past FGLI activists, the first Northwestern class of the new decade may bring in a changing tide that will take us to where we need to be.

Austin Benavides is a Medill junior. He can be contacted at [email protected] If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected] The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @awstinbenavides

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