Grinnellians Attend Socioeconomic Empowerment Summit in Chicago

February 08, 2019
Some of the Grinnellians who attended. Top row: Carina Wilson ‘19, Jade Bezjak ‘20, Yesheng Chen ‘21, Cinthia Romo ‘21, Kayla Estes ‘18, Gilberto Perez ‘21


Recently, with funding from the Donald and Winifred Wilson Center for Innovation and Leadership, a group of Grinnellians were able to attend the first ever annual Socioeconomic Empowerment Summit in Chicago. The event was hosted at the University of Chicago by the Socioeconomic Diversity Alliance, a student organization for first-generation and low-income students (FGLI).

There, the students heard panels of experts, attended lectures by keynote speakers, and participated in workshops on topics including the prevalence of imposter syndrome among FGLI students, how to apply to graduate school as a FGLI student, immigration and the FGLI identity, general advice for FGLI students, and building career skills. In addition, our own Kayla Estes ’18 sat on the student panel regarding of first-generation and low-income students.

Participants found that, by talking about their common identity as first-generation and/or low-income students, they were able to reflect on their skills and weaknesses in a way that acknowledged the disadvantages that they’re prone to. As sophomore Gilberto Perez ’21 put it, “it served as a reminder that I am not alone in the challenges that I face.” The summit also allowed them to network with other FGLI students, faculty, and professionals around the Midwest.

During these discussions, students from Grinnell learned about how campus culture conditions the struggles faced by FGLI students and identified the particular ways FGLI students are disadvantaged at Grinnell before brainstorming innovative ways the campus administration and student organizations can help to overcome those issues.

Lessons from the Conference

What they found was that much of the work being done at Grinnell to support FGLI students is being done by the Multicultural Leadership Council and QuestBridge, and that Grinnell lacks a student organization specifically for FGLI students.

Some of the other ideas they came up with included:

  • having a physical space on campus for FGLI students to organize,
  • working with faculty to develop an advising/mentoring program for FGLI students, and
  • adding a QuestBridge alumni panel, graduate school panel, and identity-focused events to our yearly Social Class Awareness Week.

They also noted that the summit provided them with new ways to approach their engagement with Grinnell’s QuestBridge chapter to foster a community of empowered FGLI students.

Looking back on the experience, Cynthia Romo ’21 says that the summit, “helped me develop as a leader and innovator by giving me that understanding of myself which increased my confidence in who I am.” And Carina Wilson ’18 says that she “took away a sense of urgency to help those around me who are struggling with their identity and fitting into Grinnell College.”

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