When I first moved to Pitzer College for an early Summer Science Immersion Program specifically for low-income, minority and first-generation college students, I felt welcomed by a diverse group of students who were ecstatic to learn about their place within the STEM field. Days later, when the rest of campus moved in, I realized our group of minority students had been lied to.
This diversity programming had set students like me up to be blindsided by the unrealistic expectations of tailored diversity content, only for the illusions to be completely eradicated once school began. This façade of seeing your “equals” on campus was a sheer fabrication of what cannot be regularly or easily seen on this campus.
It’s hard to walk around a campus you feel doesn’t belong to you. Often, I found myself singled out from conversations and experiences due to my lack of support and guidance from parents who never had the opportunity to go to college. I had never felt more inadequate about myself until I came to college. I feel guilty about having the opportunity and privilege to do something my family was never able to do — and have juxtaposed feelings of sadness for leaving them behind to seek what they never could.
As a BIPOC and first-generation college student, my transition to Pitzer was not made easier by the fact that I found myself alone struggling to acclimate from a 97 percent minority public high school to a predominantly white institution. Not only was I an ethnic minority for the first time, I also had no prior knowledge of the institutional practices of college. This culture shock destines students to struggle if they don’t have the right support system.
A college should be a reflection of the world in all ranges of racial, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity. It cannot be a singular reflection of those who have historically been deemed worthy of a college education and BIPOC students most palatable to the admissions committees through trauma porn and checked boxes.
Despite the objective value of admitting more first-generation college students, institutionally, Pitzer cannot allow it. Pitzer College admissions requires a more extensive application process for students who are applying for financial aid rather than it does for students who can afford the cost of full tuition.
As an intern at the Pitzer Office of Financial Aid, I have seen firsthand how money has a governing hand in the admissions process. I have been told multiple times by office staff that students applying for admissions and financial aid have their initial applications read by two different admissions counselors, while students who can provide the full $80,000 tuition only have one counselor. This means that students in need of financial assistance are unknowingly competing against their own peers for a spot at this nationally ranked institution.
But this isn’t new. Colleges around the United States have shown through news headlines and scandals that money has more power than admissions offices would like us to know.
First-generation students and students who seek financial assistance have a significant overlap. This sad reality is built upon the struggles of BIPOC communities to achieve upward mobility as a result of generations of racism and bigotry.
Many first-generation students lack the proper resources to acclimate to college culture. There needs to be greater funding initiatives across the campuses to help students from systemically underrepresented backgrounds. This may include a first-generation student orientation, priority and guided course registration and even substantial four-year educational planning programming. Either way, support must carry students through their academic careers — not cut short once first-year orientation is over.
There must also be an emphasis on increasing the socioeconomic diversity of students. Pitzer College, a need-aware institution, should remove their blinders and ensure every future student has been selected based on quality and not solely on their ability to pay full tuition. This starts with holding all students, both students in need of financial aid and students that aren’t, to the same admissions standard.
The change doesn’t stop at Pitzer — all of the Claremont Colleges must do their part to bring in diversity. There is urgency in making change that will bring more support and less isolation to first-generation students. Pitzer can follow in the footsteps of Scripps College, Claremont McKenna College and Pomona College and increase diversity and first-generation enrollment by becoming a Questbridge National College Match partner.
You cannot pick out a first-generation student from their physical traits. They have an underlying grit and perseverance that is often only known between each other. Do not look at us and pity our upbringing or lack of resources, but advocate for our narratives and upward mobility. We are more than first-generation students. We are not a photo opportunity. We are more than your diversity narratives and Instagram posts make us out to be. We are scholars, researchers, activists, artists and so much more than what Pitzer treats us as.
Guest writer Daniel Bonilla PZ ’25 is an Environmental Science major from Los Angeles. He has a passion for advocating for marginalized communities and hopes to utilize his background in science to amplify historically-silenced voices.