GU Alliance Unites Colleges

Georgetown’s Alliance for the Low-Income, First-Generation Narrative was recently featured in The Atlantic for its efforts to empower and connect first-generation and low-income students.

Four members of the Georgetown Scholarship Program co-founded AL1GN, an initiative sponsored by the GSP, in spring 2015. The organization aims to provide resources and a forum through which members can construct their own narratives and address issues associated with labeling students with terms such as “low-income,” “first-generation” or both.

As part of a larger discussion on the conflation of the terms “low-income” and “first-generation,” Melissa Young’s Oct. 15 article opened with the story of Chris Lam (SFS ’17), one of AL1GN’s four co-founders and followed him from his acceptance into Georgetown through the founding of AL1GN.
AL1GN’s efforts support students nationally beyond Georgetown’s campus.

In an interview with The Hoya, Lam said that his sister’s experience as a first-generation, low-income student at the University of Miami inspired him to create the organization.

“After hearing how frustrating it was for my sister back at the University of Miami, I started reaching out to staff at schools near Georgetown, including American University and George Mason University and asked them what it’s like being first-generation, low-income students and what it’s like being a staff member who supports those students,” Lam said.

According to Young, who is also a professor at American University and a former first-generation student herself, many of the stories told by first-generation or low-income college students revolve around the conflation of the terms “low-income” and “first-generation,” and the reduction of students to these labels.

“From many conversations with students and based on my own experience as a first-gen, I see that for universities it’s convenient to conflate labels. Sometimes the categories fit and sometimes they don’t,” Young said. “We need to see the whole student if we want to help them succeed. First-gen students often struggle to navigate university bureaucracies — I do as a professor too — and we need to clear those paths.”

Young is scheduled to be the opening keynote speaker at AL1GN’s inaugural conference at Georgetown in the spring.

AL1GN is one of several organizations in the United States supporting first-generation and low-income students. In January 2014, Brown University launched 1VYG, an organization whose efforts target first-generation and low-income students at Ivy League schools.
According to Lam, 1VYG was part of the inspiration for the creation of AL1GN. However, AL1GN aims to expand their efforts beyond elite institutions like Brown and Georgetown.

“We were inspired by what 1VYG was doing at the time with their very first conference at Brown. The original mission on paper was to reclaim the narrative,” Lam said. “We noticed that these stories were centered around people who went to Georgetown and Brown and Harvard, so elite schools, and we want to try to expand the orbit of the narrative that was centered around those schools to include other schools, not just from an elite versus nonelite standpoint, but from geographical, regional standpoints, et cetera.”

GSP Program Director Missy Foy said the AL1GN conference aims to strengthen the broader collegiate community of low-income and first-generation students.

“I think that conferences like AL1GN, which offer opportunities for first-generation students nationally to get together, are extremely valuable. One thing that I noticed when I was following the news about 1VYG when it first started was how students were realizing that there were other students out there like them who were actually having similar experiences,” Foy said.

Foy also said she hopes there will be increased collaboration and conversation by joining together students from different schools in the conference.

“First-generation college student experiences are certainly not the same for every student, but many of them are universal,” Foy said. “These kids are breaking glass ceilings, so I think that there’s a lot of power in bringing together people who have those things in common in one room.”

Young said first-generation and low-income students are a valuable contribution to the intellectual diversity of colleges.

“Organizing AL1GN is ambitious. They’re very passionate, and I find their work inspiring,” Young said. “I hope universities see first-gen students as the asset they are. First-gens are resilient and brave.”

According to Executive Director of AL1GN Jennifer Chung (COL ’18), who is also a member of GSP, organizations and programs like GSP and AL1GN are integral to college campuses.

“Me and a couple of other students recognized the struggles that low-income, first-generation students face at Georgetown,” Chung said. “We have this incredible program, the Georgetown Scholarship Program, so if we have this incredible support system and we’re still struggling, we can only imagine what students at other universities are facing.”

Chung said that GSP is a prime example of institutional support for first-generation and low-income students and expressed hope that AL1GN can use those resources to help these students at other schools.

“When one of the founders of 1VYG came to Georgetown last year to talk to us, they told us that GSP was the best program for first-generation, low-income students that they’ve found, based on their research,” Chung said. “So, because we have the resources to do this, why wouldn’t we be the leaders and help do it for others?”

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