“Exhausting not being heard and not being seen”: Pitzer’s First Gen club escalates action after administration disagreement

Group of first generation students listen to powerpoint presentation in Mead Hall
After Pitzer laid off two interns in its FirstGen Program due to a lack of funding, students in the First Gen Club released a statement demanding that the program be restructured. (Kimberly Murillo • The Student Life)

After months of tension between Pitzer College’s First Gen Club and the institution’s FirstGen program, the club is holding a demonstration today at 12 p.m. at the Pitzer Mounds. This action comes after Pitzer told two FirstGen program student interns that it could not continue paying them for their work last spring.

The removal of the stipends followed what students said were years of struggle among the college’s first-generation students to receive adequate funding and support from the program.

Adaija Sheppard PZ ’25 and Diego Villegas PZ ’24 said they were hired as program interns for the 2022-2024 cycle. As part of their role, Villegas said they were supposed to receive a stipend every semester. However, this May, the program’s director told the two that Pitzer FirstGen could no longer provide the stipends due to the program’s limited funds.

TSL reached out to the program director and to multiple other administrators, but did not receive a response from any by the time of publication.

Wendy Shattuck, assistant vice president for college communications, did not directly respond to any of TSL’s individual questions on the issue, but told TSL via email that Pitzer was addressing FirstGen internally.

“Pitzer administrators have been working internally on the [FirstGen] program and club concerns that [TSL is] interested in. We won’t have a collective response to your questions on it, however,” she said.

Sheppard and Villegas told TSL they received the director’s email at the start of finals week, just days after hosting an inaugural first-generation graduation ceremony at Pitzer on May 5, 2023.

“We met up immediately after that email and we just sat in silence for a little bit,” Sheppard, who is also president of Pitzer’s First Gen Club, said. “Did we do something wrong?”

Villegas said he had to pick up three jobs over the summer in order to compensate for the lost stipend.

“As a first-gen low-income student, it placed a lot of financial stress on me,” Villegas said in an email to TSL. “The stipend was a major source of contribution to my tuition, so losing this source of income did not come easy.”

Sheppard and Villegas said this email was the tipping point in their already tense relationship with the Pitzer FirstGen program, which falls under the Office of Academic Affairs.

“As first-gen students, we were really hesitant to speak up about wrongs — I feel like institutionally because we are vulnerable as a population,” Sheppard said. “But it got to the point where our executive board collectively agreed that we should make a statement and speak out against it.”

The week following the removal of the stipends, First Gen Club sent a statement to Pitzer condemning the act and demanding enhanced support and funding for the FirstGen program, Sheppard said. The same statement is circling among students at Pitzer in anticipation of today’s demonstration.

Reinstating pay for the two interns was one of the central demands of the statement, which claimed that the timing and manner of the stipend removal “[sent] a message to the first-gen student community at Pitzer College that our needs are not prioritized and that we are deemed expendable in the face of performativity.”

The statement also highlighted First Gen Club’s issue with the program lacking student representation to accurately anticipate and meet the needs of first-gen students.

“It’s so important that student voices are heard for the current struggles that first-gen students at Pitzer are going through,” Daniel Bonilla PZ ’25, vice president of First Gen Club, said. “Assuming that [administration] could handle [the program] without consulting students is just very naive.”

Through the summer and start of the school year, Sheppard said she and other First Gen Club members met with administrative members and corresponded with them through emails over concerns in the statement.

Still, Sheppard said she doesn’t feel as though any progress on the interns’ status has been made.

Lola Latan PZ ’25, an executive board member, also expressed frustration with the way FirstGen offers academic support for first-generation students. She explained that she and numerous other first-generation students that she met through the First Gen Club found themselves struggling academically, especially in their first year.

While Latan hopes that the First Gen Club will be able to provide students with some of the academic support they are missing, she said that a student-run club should not have to take over the responsibilities of a program run by paid faculty members.

“I also think it’s important to highlight that a lot of these ideas come from students,” Latan said. “I do think that it’s a good thing in terms of like, students know what students want, but at the same time, it’s a lot of mental, emotional and even physical labor.”

Sheppard felt similarly, claiming that the First Gen Club, as opposed to the FirstGen program, organized and funded several of the events put on for the first-generation community last year. Most recently, she said, the club took over the mentorship program formerly run by the FirstGen program.

“At this point, I’m doing the job of the program director,” Sheppard said. “It’s really a funny, surreal experience being a junior in college and giving resources to students because the [program] refuses to do that for them.”

Sheppard said she and the First Gen Club never anticipated this conflict and tension between first-generation students and the FirstGen program. However, she said that she was willing to escalate matters to ensure that the voices of first-generation students were heard.

“It gets so exhausting not being heard and not being seen,” Sheppard said. “I just want to be a student and worry about myself, but I feel like the weight of the success of this community is just on me and all other students and that’s not fair. We work hard to be here. We deserve a chance to just be students that want to be students and not full-on facilitators and leaders 24/7.”

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