On college campuses across the country, students are admitting how hard college has been for them — not academically or socially, but financially.
Sharing everything from parents losing their jobs to what it's like to date someone in a higher socioeconomic class, students are anonymously posting their thoughts and feelings to student-run Facebook feeds called Class Confessions.
The groups give first-generation and low-income college students the chance to share their financial struggles without identifying themselves — and in some cases, they are resulting in collaborations on campus to help those in need.
The idea behind Class Confessions, which started at Stanford and the University of Chicago, is to raise awareness of what life is like for students with financial challenges, especially at schools where moneyed peers abound.
When Toni Airaksinen, a first-generation college student and sophomore at Barnard College, heard about it, she decided to start one for Barnard and Columbia University so students like herself could be heard. Within a day, the page had 1,000 likes. It has posted between nearly 800 confessions already.
Airaksinen grew up in a “very resource-lacking neighborhood” in Cleveland. Neither of her parents graduated from high school and neither works, and for the majority of her life, the family lived on welfare and food stamps.
Since launching Class Confessions, “We’ve seen more of a commitment from the administration at Barnard and Columbia in terms of wanting to support students,” Airaksinen said.
The online initiative has turned into real action: Columbia now offers a meal share, where students with food insecurity can reach out on Facebook to meet up and get a swipe from a fellow student who has a spare meal to share. Another initiative, called the Emergency Meal Fund, lets students talk to the dining hall manager, in private, and get up to six free meal swipes.
According to the Pell Institute, only 11 percent of first-generation, low-income students will receive a bachelor’s degree in six years, compared with 54 percent of those who are neither low-income nor first-generation.
Feeding America’s 2014 Hunger in America report found that around 10 percent of its 46.5 million adult clients are currently students. And over 30 percent of those surveyed had to choose between food and paying for college costs at some point. Many campuses have opened food pantries, where students in need can discreetly pick up bags of groceries.
Between five and 10 times a day, someone at Columbia or Barnard reaches out to the admins of the page to ask what they can do to help. Some are faculty or fellow students, and others are just strangers moved by the confessions.
“I think that Class Confessions has definitely made the concept of people having issues a lot more mainstream,” Airaksinen said, “People were more willing to talk about their struggles and publicly ask for help.”