Attending Harvard on campus put me on equal footing with my classmates in a way that my background as a first-generation, low-income (FGLI) student never would have allowed otherwise.
For me, it was hard enough blending in with my classmates when we lived in the same dorms, ate in the same dining halls, and attended class in the same lecture rooms. Starting my sophomore year, I no longer had a bedroom when I went home from college. I took a conference call for a pre-professional program from the edge of a bathtub because I needed a quiet space with a plain background. When I visited the mini-mansions where my friends from college grew up, I also caught a glimpse of their vacation homes — which were three times the size of any of the houses I had ever lived in.
In a selfish way, I am grateful to have graduated before the pandemic. I’m grateful to have found a secure job where I can earn a good living, have health insurance, and maintain professional stability. I’m grateful now that when I jump on a Zoom call, I actually have multiple rooms in my house where I can take the call. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have had that. I worry for the other FGLI students with similar backgrounds who are struggling not only to earn money to support themselves through undergrad (and potentially their families), but also trying to learn in an environment entirely foreign to their classmates, outside of the almost-level playing field that campuses attempt to provide.
My hope is that professors, advisors, and administrators will be honest in their promises to support FGLI students. It’s not enough to just offer admission to them — you have to ensure that they’re welcome once they’re through the gates. Please, have empathy for your students as they fight to be productive and available during these stressful times. This starts with understanding why your students may not feel comfortable turning on their video or audio during lectures. This continues with understanding potential time zone differences when scheduling meetings. It doesn’t end with providing clear guidance and expectations.
Maybe most of your students are sitting through lecture in a private room with an organized desk, their iPhone charging off of their MacBook Air as they listen to the lesson through Bose noise cancelling headphones. But for those students sitting on the edge of their mom’s bathtub using their neighbor’s Wi-Fi, have some empathy.
We exist, and we deserve to learn with the same respect and commitment from our professors that our classmates already possess.