As a low income college student, COVID-19 first seemed irrelevant. However, as the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as pandemic and the cases in the United States started to increase, I began to realize that it could possibly impact me. Not long after, Vanderbilt University had its first case on campus which forced the administration to transition into online classes and have students move out of the campus. Without a further advance notice, it was extremely challenging to purchase a high-priced plane ticket back home. Not only that, it was also financially challenging to purchase necessary boxes and storage space for my belongings at Nashville. Thankfully, Vanderbilt University set up a Student Hardship Fund where students on financial aid can receive for up to $500 as a reimbursement for financial spending incurred due to COVID-19. I realize that the future seems unclear, and my family certainly struggle financially during this time. However, I also find many resources and communities that are willing to help and support during this time.
FGLI COVID-19 Stories
COVID-19 has greatly impacted many people around the world, especially first-generation and/or low-income (FGLI) students. With this special edition COVID-19 blog initiative, Rise First hopes to achieve three key objectives:
- raise awareness of the challenges FGLI students are experiencing during this unprecedented crisis,
- provide a platform for FGLI students to share their stories,
- offer support to the best of our ability (through financial assistance and a curated COVID-19 resources list)
Rise First is honored to be able to provide a platform for student authors to opt-in to sharing their heartfelt and inspiring experiences with others so that no one will feel alone during these trying times. The inspiring stories published here are unedited to fully reflect each author’s voice. They are weaved together by common threads of determination, hope, and a sense of community - we truly are all in this together.
The students named in the blog entries below have opted-in to display their bios and have provided headshots for publishing.
Posts from students at Vanderbilt University
Coming back home for school breaks is often not something I look forward to, as the freedom, feeling of safety, and space that I have at college is unfortunately not something I can enjoy at my house. Because of the current COVID-19 situation, Vanderbilt University understandably had to send all of the students home. I tried to linger on campus for as long as possible with my boyfriend, but ultimately, we were forced to leave. I am fortunate in that I live in the same city that I attend college, so traveling back home was no big issue. Nevertheless, home itself has its issues.
I have a 7-person family, so I’ve never had my own bedroom before. Coming to college was the first time I ever truly had my own personal space and freedom; I got to live in a dorm room by myself and honestly, do whatever I pleased. I could play music in my room, sing, get work done peacefully, have friends over, and more! None of this stuff I had ever done in my room at home. Because I have such a big family who lives in a tiny, 3-bedroom house, I share a single room with my 3 other sisters. Yes, that’s right, 4 siblings sharing one room. We all sleep in bunkbeds and don’t have any personal space at all. 3 of us are in college and/or graduate school (my oldest sister), but now that we’re all back home, we’ve had to figure out a way for all of us to attend our online Zoom class sessions while not overloading our already crappy Wi-Fi and while having some privacy. We’ve yet to figure out how to do this successfully, and neither of our parents actually care that much about the matter so they don’t take the initiative to help us out. We always have to put in headphones to attend our class sessions and are constantly talking over one another in the same room. We don’t have any private rooms or spaces in the house; just the 3 bedrooms which are always occupied. Our girls’ bedroom has a single desk that we all have to share, and it’s hard to use the dining room table because our parents don’t respect that we have work to do so they are constantly noisy and fighting in the background.
March 9th commenced the first official measure that Vanderbilt University was undertaking against the spread of COVID-19. Classes were canceled for that very week and in-person classes were to be suspended from March 16th to at least March 30th. Extracurricular student and university programming for the rest of the semester was brought to a halt as well. As I tuned into GroupMe, I was met with a flood of messages in local group messages happy for the “extension” of spring break, while others claimed that they had already purchased their tickets home. As a low-income student working in a near-minimum-wage Work-Study position, I was in no rush to scramble for the funds to purchase a flight ticket back home. I knew I simply did not have it then, so I was prepared to stay on campus until in-person classes possibly re-started. I was glad that our interim chancellor stated that the campus would “remain open with limited or reduced services.” Though the language was vague, I was mostly sure that I would not go hungry during this time. Nonetheless, I continued to wait for any more updates as to how the university planned to support its students that could not leave campus at this point.
The bad news began to ensue with the morning of March 10th, as I received an e-mail from my supervisor alerting student employees in our office that shifts were canceled through April 30th. Because my position directly pertains to the execution of on-campus events (that were canceled for the rest of the semester), there was no “other type of work available” for us students employed with my office. Being that this Work-Study position is my only source of income, I met this e-mail with a rush of dread and immediately asked my supervisor if the department noted if there were any paid-time-off opportunities for student employees. I explained to her that canceling shifts for the rest of the semester put a huge financial strain on student employees, especially those that were Work-Study recipients. My supervisor let me know that at that point, the department did not have any developments as it pertained to paid-time-off, so I continued to wait.