OPINION: Hey, Pomona admin — FLI students deserve textbooks, too

Course registration sucks.

If your initial thoughts after reading that were “Oh, it wasn’t that bad,” you probably had a good registration time this semester. When you’re allowed to choose your classes anytime before noon, the process only seems slightly tedious. You might have to account for upcoming schedule conflicts, but for the most part, your classes are yours for the choosing. 

The worse your time gets, the worse your pickings are. The worse your pickings are, the more PERMs you have to write and the more classes you have to sit in.

Now, apply this same logic to buying textbooks.

We can all agree that textbooks are ridiculously expensive. But if shopping for textbooks only ranks as slightly tiresome instead of extremely stressful for you, I need you to realize that your socioeconomic background is the equivalent of having a “before noon” registration time. Low-income students at Pomona College are experiencing the equivalent of writing 50 PERMs and having all of them rejected.

I hesitate to even compare this process to PERMs, because PERMing at least makes some semblance of sense. Relying on emergency grants to be able to afford textbooks, however, does not. 

The word “emergency” in the phrase “emergency grant” implies that the money given should be used to support students facing serious, unexpected circumstances. Low-income students not being able to afford textbooks is certainly serious, but the administration should have expected that the moment they sent out their acceptance letters.

The phrasing “emergency grant” alone reinforces the separation of low-income students from the rest of the Pomona community. For everyone else, being unable to afford textbooks probably would be an unexpected circumstance. Low-income students expect this problem every semester, yet there is currently no system in place to consistently and reliably support them.

Pomona supposedly offers $500 textbook vouchers to some FLI (first-generation and/or low-income) students, but only first-year students are eligible, according to Pomona Dean of Students Avis Hinkson. Under a new policy for this academic school year, students can also buy their books at the Huntley Bookstore and bill their student account directly, according to Pomona Director of Financial Aid Robin Thompson. 

But, only students whose financial aid, outside scholarships and loans exceed the cost of tuition can be fully reimbursed through this process, Thompson said. For everyone else, it’s just another loan that will have to be repaid.

Also, chances are if you couldn’t afford the textbooks before, you probably can’t afford to bill it to your student account, especially considering that those on work-study are not automatically guaranteed on-campus jobs.

FLI students’ options are limited. They can apply for an “emergency” grant, but they run the risk of getting their request rejected, according to students who have applied for them. They can bill the costs to their student account, but in many cases they’ll need to apply for a lot of jobs on campus to eventually repay it. 

They can visit the book room in Walker Lounge, but it might not have the books they need. Or, if they’re like me, they can just drop the class and hope to find one with a cheaper reading list to fulfill their requirements next semester. 

And yeah, there are other (illegal) solutions to these problems. But those solutions are not given to you by the same members of the administration that sat you down during orientation week, looked you in the eye and vowed to help you thrive here. Those are the solutions that you find on your own.

Every year, Pomona showboats its percentage of first-generation and low-income students that make up its first-year class. Every year, Pomona is ranked as one of the colleges with the highest endowment per student in the U.S. 

And yet, every year, as I’ve observed, Pomona fails to adequately support many of its low-income students who are just trying to do what they came here to do: learn.

This isn’t just a problem at the 5Cs. Universities nationwide constantly brand themselves as places of opportunity for first-generation and low-income students and consistently fail to accommodate their needs, further perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

Those who do not have access to higher education will have fewer job opportunities, resulting in a low socioeconomic status. These same people are rendered unable to fully support their family members trying to obtain access to higher education, so those family members will go on to have a low socioeconomic status in turn. Supporting first-generation and low-income students and funding their education is paramount to breaking this cycle. 

Problems like this can only be solved through administrative action. An unconditional $500 textbook grant for all FLI students would be a great start.

If Pomona wants to advertise that they support first-generation and low-income students, it needs to start actually playing the part.

Brooke Sparks PO ’22 is from Las Vegas, Nevada. Although she is part of FLI, she wants to make it clear that these views are her own and do not reflect those of the entire FLI community.

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