Undergraduate Student Government President Myesha Jemison ’18 signed on to the “No Apologies Initiative,” a collaborative effort among student government leaders of Ivy League and similarly selective peer institutions to automatically remove application fees for first-generation and low-income applicants to their schools, according to a press release. The press release was penned by Viet Nguyen, Brown University Student Body President and the director of 1IvyG, an inter-Ivy first-generation college student network that provides resources to first-generation students and seeks to “improve ... campuses for all first-generation college students.”
Melana Hammel ’18, co-chair of the Princeton Hidden Minority Council, also signed on to the initiative along with USG Vice President Daniel Qian ’19.
“From personal experience, I’m a first generation student thinking about how my experience has been and we can have that experience improved even more,” Jemison said. “Even when we’ve done great work, it’s always important to improve what we do in the future.”
Hammel was not available for comment at the time of publication.
Jemison said that she plans to work with administrators on the No Apologies Initiative such as Deputy Dean of Undergraduate Students Thomas Dunne and Associate Dean of the College and Director of Programs for Access and Inclusion Khristina Gonzalez. She cited both individuals as administrators she has worked with in the past to achieve goals for low-income and first generation students.
“I understand it takes time but I look forward to see that we’re working on it and that is happens,” Jemison said.
Now, as USG president, Jemison recalls her experience applying to college and knows that this change is critical to removing another barrier between low income and first generation students and college.
“I used to carry around a binder of scholarship applications throughout the day and I’d work on them throughout the day,” she said. “People thought I was really weird but I really needed scholarship money. I knew that in order for this to be a reality I had to find a way to cover these fees.”
The press release tells Nguyen’s story of applying to college and describes how he was faced not just with application fees, but with fees to send test scores to each of the schools he was applying to.
“It was a thousand dollars that could have gone to food or rent,” he wrote in the press release, adding that even with the availability of limited fee waivers, he couldn’t justify spending the amount of money “that was the equivalent of three weeks worth of food for my family.”
After writing to schools asking for more application fee waivers, the release states that Nguyen realized he was apologizing for being poor and that the feeling was humiliating, even though he did eventually receive the waivers. “The guilt and shame alone almost stopped me from going to college,” he wrote.
The press release notes that Nguyen's story is not uncommon, according to a 2014 White House report that indicated such fees were huge barriers to first generation students’ college applications. The press release further notes a recent New York Times study, which “found that in these colleges, there are more students from the 1 percent, making more than 630K a year, than there are students from the bottom 60 percent.”
The Times study also found that the median income at the University was $186,100 and that 72 percent of its students come from the top 20 percent. In comparison, the median household income nationwide in 2015 was $55,775, according to the Census Bureau.
The press release praised organizations like Questbridge and Posse for their work to address socioeconomic disparity, but said that colleges themselves should take on greater responsibility. The release further noted the examples of Bowdoin College and Trinity which waived all application fees for first-generation students in 2015.
“It is our responsibility and our prerogative to open those very same doors for those who follow,” Nyugen wrote in the press release.
“On the side of these top tier institutions if they are really looking to make this University accessible, they’re eliminating this economic barrier a lot of students have had to deal with their entire lives,” Jemison said. “[The students] done all the right things, but they’ve done all this without those resources, it’s important for the University to show that they want to make it accessible to you not only when you get here and we help you with financial aid but even before.”
“I‘m excited about the letter and the opportunities it opens up for these students in low-income and first generation students,” Jemison said. “I trust the University will act on this and not only recognize what us current students have requested and would like to see but how this will result in great opportunities for students who will be applying come fall.”
The initiative, part of 1IvyG, is also signed by student government leaders at Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Northwestern University, the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University, the University of Chicago, and Yale University.
The press release is also supported by first-generation, low-income student groups at Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Penn, Yale, and the University.