Brown University holds a miserable track record of supporting its U-FLi (undocumented, first-generation college, low-income) students, who thrive in this hostile environment only by virtue of our own community’s organizing, care and mentorship. As U-FLi students, we feel like tokens whose life struggles and traumas only matter to the institution when they are profitable and help depict a false image of Brown as a generous, socially conscious school — rather than a money-hungry business catered primarily toward the global elite. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made it clear how Brown is completely apathetic to U-FLi students’ struggles until we are convenient to its public image. Brown’s lack of care for the U-FLi community, throughout a pandemic that continues to disproportionately harm us, is reflective of an administration that fails to support us when we need it most.
The disparities low-income students face on and off campus have only been exacerbated by the pandemic and remote learning. We all faced different circumstances after returning home and being abruptly torn away from friends, college experiences and University resources. Some students came home to more than adequate spaces to continue their education, while others (mainly U-FLi students) came home to spaces that were not conducive to learning. Some of us worked on kitchen tables in crowded and noisy environments, on makeshift desks or during the nighttime to find quiet time for our studies. Some of us had, and still have, family members who are essential workers and risk their lives to keep food on the table. Some of us are the ones responsible for keeping food on our families’ tables.
Despite the unequal impacts of the COVID pandemic, Brown rejected widespread calls for a Universal Pass policy, which would have minimized the unique academic challenges faced by U-FLi students last spring. While peer institutions like Yale adopted some form of a universal pass/fail policy, the Brown administration instead sat back and expressed vapid sentiments of support. Dean of the College Rashid Zia ’01 thoughtlessly stated that he disagreed with instituting Universal Pass because students needed an opportunity to “showcase their resilience in the face of adversity” — a deeply insulting message to many of us in the U-FLi community who’ve faced adversity our entire lives, and are sick of being told to remain resilient in circumstances most of our peers never have to face. Remote learning is a continuous reminder of how only a select few are forced to display their resiliency. Our friend and member of the U-FLi community, Zuhal Saljooki ’22 expressed in a tweet: “What is resilience other than privilege abstracted? You just happened to have the resources to overcome and enough students didn’t.” Another U-FLi friend told us that Zia’s comment personally hit them hard because they have been told they are “so strong” for facing challenges. Most days they do not want to have to be strong — they want to be safe.
Brown has also failed to provide adequate mental health resources for U-FLi students. When classes initially transitioned to remote learning last spring, many other Brown services followed suit, including Counseling and Psychological Services. Therapists were temporarily licensed in some states to serve remote students, regardless of their study location, in spring and fall 2020. Many of us entered the current spring semester with intentions to continue using CAPS. Unfortunately, remote students were given little communication prior to this semester about how CAPS would no longer be able to serve out-of-state remote students. With no formal email sent out, we discovered the news either through a therapy session or from other Brown students. Although the lack of access to CAPS was potentially inevitable considering the federal laws surrounding psychological services across state lines, the manner in which Brown handled the situation was a straight slap to the face. The decision to cut CAPS access for remote students was finalized in December, while the federal provision allowing for out-of-state counseling ended in October 2020. The Brown administration had ample time to notify the student body about the transition, brainstorm alternatives to CAPS and equip students with the sufficient resources to find new therapists. For many low-income students, one of us included, CAPS was one of the few avenues to receive psychological services that didn’t require the hassle of navigating outside services. Mental health services are incredibly inaccessible to low-income communities and even more stigmatized within communities of color. Rescinding our access to CAPS amid a pandemic with little warning has left many of us floundering in a sea of confusion, frustration and anger. Brown University continues to remind us that our well-being is not a priority, but an afterthought. Brown fought for students to return to campus amid a pandemic, but did not fight to support U-FLi students throughout this pandemic. Sadly, the lack of communication regarding CAPS follows the pattern of Brown’s abysmal communication throughout the pandemic.
With a yearly endowment of almost five billion dollars, Brown focuses its efforts on finding ways to make the school more money, rather than taking care of its most vulnerable and marginalized communities. Other universities gave students upward of $2,000 dollars through the CARES Act, while Brown both failed to address the financial needs of graduate students and then gave its undergraduate students on financial aid a mere $150 for travel and moving expenses. Although students had the option to apply for a little more money, it is inhumane to force students to advocate for themselves and fill out paperwork during such a tumultuous and uncertain time. Furthermore, while there was initial controversy about whether or not Ivy Leagues with large endowments like Brown’s should accept the CARES Act money, Brown ultimately was awarded the funding after it applied in the spring. But as of August 18, 2020, Brown has distributed a total $0 of the over $2.4 million in CARES Act money that would go directly to students. The money could have provided relief for students throughout the pandemic, but instead it remains untouched and undiscussed. Moreover, the community that exists outside of the Brown bubble is a majority low-income Black and Brown community, and President Christina Paxson P’19 put these communities at further risk by allowing too many students, including almost the entire class of 2024, to return to campus while hospitals face overwhelming numbers within their ICUs. What can we expect of a university president who believes “Brown’s endowment is not a political instrument”? It must have been so hard for her to take a 20 percent pay cut to her $1.2 million salary (from Brown alone). Her pay cut was an insult for low-income families who survive on far less than her $200,000 deduction.
Brown continues to treat U-FLi students as disposable and only pretends otherwise to maintain the facade of being the “progressive” Ivy League school. Brown is nothing more than another corporation disguised by the veneer of an elite education. It succeeds in only perpetuating the very systems it purports to dismantle. We do not need Brown’s actionless empathy. We need monetary support from Brown. We do not need to be resilient. We need systems in place that do not call for resiliency.
Adela Herce ’22 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, Sibeles Torres ’22 can be reached at email@example.com and Georgeara Castañeda ’22 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: A previous version of this op-ed misspelled Georgeara Castañeda's last name in the byline, and misidentified the graduation year of Zuhal Saljooki '22. The Herald regrets the errors.