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Credit: Naati Hamda

Penn First, the student organization for first-generation, low-income students on campus, held its fifth bi-annual summit this weekend since the group’s creation in the fall of 2015. 

At the summit, students were divided into groups to discuss the different issues they face on campus and brainstorm possible solutions. These topics ranged from financial aid and the hidden costs of attendance to mental health and social attitudes. 

Members of the Penn First board then passed the ideas along to administrators that interact with the FGLI community, College sophomore Sebastian Gonzalez, the internal outreach chair for Penn First, said. 

Gonzalez indicated that the group intends to emphasize the needs of FGLI students to administrators, who he says have focused more on the superfluous aspects of campus life, rather than solving more pressing issues for members of the FGLI community. 

Some attendees noted that mental health was emphasized more at this summit than in previous semesters. 

Credit: Naati Hamda

During a focus group concerning mental health, students discussed the length of wait times for CAPS appointments, stating that they are longer for students who request therapists with specific backgrounds such as socioeconomic status and race. The group agreed that this kind of request can be especially important for FGLI students.

College sophomore Kerry O’Neil, the social chair for Penn First, said that the topic is something the board should look into further.

“I don’t have a lot of experience with CAPS and stuff like that so hearing stuff about that and like how that specifically affects FGLI students is something maybe I haven’t thought about as much as I could have or should have,” O’Neil said. 

O’Neil said she was happy to see that some issues had been resolved since last semester. These issues include a collaboration between the Greenfield Intercultural Center and the Platt Performing Arts House to set aside free tickets for FGLI students so they can attend performing arts shows. 

O’Neil also said she believes the meal system of giving FGLI students $25 a day to spend at the Fresh Grocer during spring break was more successful than programs in previous years. 

However, other issues remained unresolved at the summit. 

O'Neil alleged there are still students who are not included on emails about food programs during break due to their lack of qualification as “high-need” and that there should be a way for students to opt in to the program. 

College sophomore Nyazia Bey, who attended the last two summits, said that financial aid is also an issue that remains unresolved

“I will say this year there was I feel like we kind of grow in terms of asking what we want, asking what we need,” Bey said. “Unfortunately, the issues that we see in financial aid aren’t going to be changed any time soon and probably won’t be changed until long after we’re gone.”

Gonzalez said he hopes that in the future Penn First can collaborate more with graduate students as well as reach FGLI students in the black community.

“I think one student had mentioned, I forget exactly who, but including more black students. For some reason that’s just something that Penn First has been lacking," Gonzalez noted. "There’s been different intersectionalities and we’ve been able to reach most of those except for the black community and we really feel like we need to do a lot more work. I really appreciated the feedback on how exactly to do that.”

For some students, the summit was their first introduction to the FGLI community. 

College senior Levi Phillips said that, before this event, he was not aware of a larger FGLI community at Penn and didn’t know he could get assistance with paying for SEPTA tokens to his internship and attending Hey Day and Fling, both of which he has never attended due to financial barriers.

“I have really complicated emotions right now. I’m really happy about everything, I have had this like loneliness because I didn’t know there was a whole community out here. I just didn’t know about it,” Phillips said. "I feel really kind of sad almost because there’s so much I missed out on."

"It felt like something I was just dealing with on my own and that’s really how it feels at Penn honestly," he continued.

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