In hopes of greater solidarity, Student Enrichment Services is always looking for new ways to enhance the first-generation and/or lower-income experience.
Student Enrichment Services (SES) is a relatively small team nested in Foster-Walker Complex, but it’s a busy one. The office first opened in 2015 under Campus Inclusion and Community, with the primary aim of helping first-generation, lower-income, and undocumented or DACA students foster identity development, navigate campus resources, and build community.
SES serves FGLI — pronounced figly — undergraduate students at Northwestern. The acronym refers to first-generation and/or low-income students which, every year, comprise a greater chunk of the school’s population. This fall, the University admitted a freshman class that is 20 percent Pell Grant-eligible and 13.5 percent first-generation, or the first among their families to attend college. As SES celebrates its fourth year, the office aims to intentionally focus on the intersections of the students it serves.
SES director Kourtney Cockrell, who essentially “started the office from scratch as a one-person team,” was constantly seeking to learn about best practices out in the field. However, she soon learned that many institutions were in the same boat — and decided to team up with peers Khristina Gonzalez from Princeton University and Devon Moore from the University of Chicago to co-found the FGLI consortium in 2017. The FGLI Consortium is a national organization leading the conversation on leadership, expertise, and resources around the experience of first-generation and/or lower-income college students at highly selective universities and colleges. In February, Cockrell, Gonzalez, and Moore coordinated the consortium’s second annual conference at Princeton with about 150 administrators from across the country.
Other institutions have adopted similar terminology — FGLI at Yale and the University of Pennsylvania, or FLI at Princeton. For one, Cockrell says first-generation and/or low-income is “just such a mouthful to have to say all the time.” But, more importantly, SES hopes the acronym can serve to highlight the shared solidarity of experience among students who fall within that “and/or” category: “Regardless of where they land within that Venn diagram of being first-generation, low-income, and/or undocumented or DACA, there is shared solidarity of experience and the strengths that they bring.”
Just like Northwestern’s “I’m First” campaign aims to celebrate and embrace the first-generation experience, assistant director Sharitza Rivera says she hopes FGLI can become a “point of pride” for students. She adds that FGLI students at Northwestern face unique challenges at predominantly white, wealthy institution, especially compared to state schools or community colleges. Social life, for instance, is very expensive: club dues, conferences and events like ski trip. Isolation can be very common among low-income students, and Rivera says income status is often a hidden identity that can make students feel unsure of where to seek help.
Of course, SES serves a diverse range of identities and experiences that can’t be boiled down to one term. The office wants to veer away from setting a rigid definition, and it would never turn away a student expressing need. Rather, the goal is to celebrate the strengths of the FGLI community. Language can be the first step. Hopefully, Rivera says, the acronym can help “bring those communities together while respecting the unique nuance that comes with each identity.”