Money Matters Week supports first-gen, low-income students

Julián Villaseñor PO ’21 performs during an open mic night event for Money Matters Week (Elinor Aspegren • The Student Life).

Saturday will mark the end of the fourth annual Money Matters Week at the 5Cs, a week devoted to understanding class consciousness and combating classism.

The week was organized by the First-Generation, Low-Income (FLI) Scholars at Pomona College, previously known as the Questbridge Pomona Chapter, and highlights how the colleges engage in activities considered to be classist discrimination on the basis of social class like gentrification and anti-labor union policies. This year, Money Matters Week embraced the theme of intersectionality.

Each year, the week begins with a class consciousness awareness photo campaign. For the past two years, organizers have partnered with schools like Bowdoin College, Amherst College, the University of Southern California, Swarthmore College and Yale University to host simultaneous photo campaigns and class awareness events.

Despite Money Matters Week primarily being held at Pomona in the past, there was a push in 2019 to have events at other colleges.

“One of the most important things for us to recognize was at other schools there are no first-generation, low-income exclusive spaces, whereas at Pomona we have the Nest,” Alezandro Ruvalcaba PO ’21 said. “We wanted to recognize [that] an FLI experience at [Claremont McKenna College] is not the same as at Scripps [College] or at Pomona.”

The week began with a panel held Monday, which included Victor UltraOmni PZ ’19, Tia Koonse, a legal and policy research manager at UCLA’s Labor Center, and Suyapa Portillo, an associate professor of Chicano/a-Latino/a Translational Studies at Pitzer. The event was held at Scripps’ Humanities Auditorium and was followed by a Q&A session.

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Other events held during the week included a screening and discussion of “Screaming Queens,” a documentary about transgender and drag queens fighting police harassment in San Francisco, a faculty mixer to discuss the needs of FLI students in the classroom and a poetry and spoken word open mic night for FLI students.

“I think it’s really important, if it’s an event you feel comfortable attending, to show up and express your support and solidarity,” Ruvalcaba said. He said students should keep in mind that “attending [these events] is a commitment to intervene when classist actions arise and to step in even when there are not FLI students in the room.”

The goal of the faculty mixer was to have a conversation about a major problem for FLI students at the 5Cs: classism in academic spaces.

“In the classroom there is an ambivalence for students from FLI backgrounds because you go into seminars and you’re discussing intimate things like healthcare or medication and people express that they don’t think that people deserve those because of whatever reason, and you take it personally,” Ruvalcaba said.

Often, FLI students are put in positions where they have to “[battle] to represent people and communities that you are coming from,” Ruvalcaba said. “We want to make the classroom a more intimate space, and we have the power to really change the way FLI students experience Pomona and the Claremont Colleges.”

While the organizers believe the week is valuable, they also recognize that it can be a burden for many FLI students to put together.

“Something that has been sitting on my mind throughout the week is a lot of us have an extreme amount of responsibility both here and at home. A lot of us send money back home to pay the bills and in a way act as guardians,” said Ayleen Hernandez PO ’20, a co-coordinator of the event. “Taking the time to raise class consciousness is an additional labor that isn’t compensated for what it’s worth.”

The week wraps up with a dance on Friday at Dom’s Lounge titled “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems.” The aim of the dance is to celebrate the resilience of FLI students and highlight the costs of throwing social events.

“Throughout the week we’re having really heavy discussions and discouragement comes in,” Hernandez said. “We constantly battle with feeling [like] we don’t belong and being in this state of mind, so we really wanted to have a space where FLI students could rejoice and really celebrate their identities.”

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Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Alezandro Ruvalcaba’s PO ’21 gender. The article has been updated. TSL regrets this error.
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