Five University students shared their experiences coming from low-income backgrounds at an event called “Divergent Voices,” which was hosted by United for Undergraduate Socioeconomic Diversity on Monday.
Roughly 50 people attended the event, which was hosted in Minor Hall. Santiago Naranjo, a fourth-year Commerce student and co-president of UFUSED, served as one of the main organizers of the event. He said UFUSED’s purpose is to raise awareness and advocate for low-income and first generation college students.
“It’s a population that’s especially susceptible to a slew of problems, one of them being academic difficulties,” Naranjo said.
Naranjo introduced Divergent Voices by sharing personal anecdotes, including one about a disagreement in which a peer suggested the disagreement stemmed from an inferiority complex, because Naranjo is Latino and comes from a low-income background.
“His words stirred up in me years of emotions about inadequacy,” Naranjo said.
The other four students also shared their family and University experiences coming from low-income backgrounds.
Sarah Sanfilippo is a first-year College student and has been working two jobs during her first year at the University.
“While my friends were starting to find their places in ... extracurricular activities, I quickly was forced to realize that I could not financially commit myself to these clubs, and I didn’t have the time to,” Sanfilippo said.
Sanfilippo said she felt her time spent working has given her a level of independence but also has isolated her further from her peers.
“This work-hard, play-hard motto that U.Va. prides itself on means that I and students that also come from low-income families have to work twice as hard just to be a part of the game,” Sanfilippo said.
Apiding Osika, a second-year College student, also spoke and described how her college application process differed from that of her peers. Instead of looking at schools that would fit her passions and personal interests, she needed to look at schools based on job prospects.
“My dream was not about my choice. It’s about where I could afford to go,” Osika said. “And I go to this school not because I love it, but because I was told I need 200 years of prestige from Mr. Jefferson’s University in order to get my foot in the door for a job.”
Nojan Rostami, a third-year College student, then shared his struggles adjusting to the University’s competitive culture as a low-income student.
“I ran out of money two weeks before my first semester ended because I spent so much trying to fit in,” Rostami said. “I bought new clothes and I completely re-did my wardrobe … I thought I wanted to be cool, I thought I wanted to fit in … I even thought about going Greek for a while.”
The final speaker, Yae Ji Cha, a fourth-year College student, described being unable to relate to her peers at the University whose parents give them money for day-to-day needs.
“I stopped asking for money from my parents years ago, when I realized that they didn’t have any to give me, and that every time I asked, I only reminded them of that fact,” Cha said.
This was the second iteration of Divergent Voices. The first iteration occured in 2015. It was a digital campaign and did not include an event with speakers. Naranjo said that the success of the first digital campaign led UFUSED to repeat the event with a student speaker component.
Naranjo said he hoped that students took away a new perspective.
“When you see events like this, show up,” Naranjo said. “All that’s required of you is to sit down and listen and to hear these stories that are so important, so valuable, so transformative in the lives of your fellow students. And at the end of the day, you’re going to be a better person for it.”