By KATIE KELLY
On Nov. 4, a new student union at Lewis & Clark that focuses on class issues had its first meeting to discuss the needs of first-generation and working class students.
Although the First Generation/Working Class Student Union is not officially a club yet, co-founders Lani Felicitas ’18 and Emily Piccard ’18 hope that once formalized as a student union, it will provide tangible resources for first-gen and working class students that would not otherwise be found on campus.
Some of these resources would include a food pantry as a substitute for grocery shopping and a Portland-attire closet for those coming from warmer climates with no financial resources to buy winter clothing. This club, however, also aims to address a much bigger issue.
“There’s a huge sense of shame that is associated with being working class on this campus and navigating that social environment can be very difficult,” Piccard said.
These students believe a way to possibly eradicate this alienation could be to develop that community on campus.
“For me, it’s finding a sense of pride [as first-gen] and trying to figure out what that means for me and… letting that drive my purpose and career path,” Felicitas said. “And knowing that first-gen is often referred to as being the first person to attend college in your family, but that we also have to recognize that we represent a [wider] community.”
As of now, the First-Generation/Working Class Student Union does not have an official name, which is something the community will decide together, according to Piccard. At the first meeting, potential union members and their upper and middle class allies discussed some of the activities and tutorials the club could potentially hold.
“[The first meeting] was just kind of like a forum for people to talk about themselves, share their backgrounds if they felt comfortable doing that, which a lot of people did and that was great,” Piccard said. “But we had a conversation about resources and what people felt like they needed. A lot of things came up like working on interview skills, learning about financial literacy (which is another goal of the First Gen Union), and how to act at an etiquette dinner.”
The idea for a First-Generation/Working Class student union was inspired by the Seattle-based hip-hop group, Blue Scholars, that is composed of two working class University of Washington students. The name Blue Scholars is a play on the term ‘blue-collar.’
“I’m a First-Gen too and when I started talking about class issues I realized that there was no union for working class or first gen students and I thought, ‘it would be brilliant if we had a Blue Scholar union.” Felicitas said.
Both of the co-founders recognize the initial awkwardness of talking about economic issues and identifying oneself as working class.
“It’s kind of weird to talk about [working class and first generation issues] because there isn’t really language for this,” Felicitas said. “All the student unions try to be intersectional, but there is no actual student union dedicated to class.”
In the end, this club’s main purpose/aim is to draw awareness to an underrepresented identity on campus.
“It’s also important to get rid of the narrative that people of color are first-gen and white people cannot be first-gen,” Felicitas said. “I am personally unlearning that. When I first started meeting white people that were first-gen I was like, ‘What? But you have all this status! You can pass!’ Sometimes I feel like I have to wear my first gen more than Emily, for example, and that f*cking hurts me.”
There are still a lot of discussions that Felicitas and Piccard want to have, specifically looking into the intersectionality between first-generation and working class and race and gender.
“What is my privilege as a white woman, and why do people assume that I am not first-gen or working class? Piccard said. “How can I be a better ally slash accomplice for my fellow working class brothers and sisters who are not white?”