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Address Student Basic Needs on NY’s College Campuses

First Generation Experiences 

As a first-generation, low-income (FGLI) student in New York City, my college journey has been a relentless battle against housing instability and food insecurity, especially as a commuter student. Sharing a cramped apartment with my mother, I work tirelessly to support us both. The constant uncertainty of where our next meal will come from or if we’ll have a roof over our heads the next day is a harsh reality we confront daily. This substandard living situation is unacceptable, yet it’s a harsh reality faced by thousands of students like me who are striving to break free and make our parents proud.

Throughout my college journey, I’ve seen these challenges persist not only in my own life but also within my community and among my peers. The exorbitant cost of living in New York City only worsens the situation, making it increasingly challenging for students from low-income backgrounds to find stable housing and affordable meals. As a member of FGLI spaces on campus, I’ve witnessed many of my peers grappling with similar hardships, often sacrificing their well-being to meet deadlines and manage tight budgets. The high expenses, such as meal plans, often force them to skip meals or rely on club events for sustenance.

In my own experience, I’ve navigated the complexities of financial aid, juggled multiple jobs to make ends meet, and still find myself falling short. I’ve felt the toll of sleep deprivation during seminars and the emptiness of skipping breakfast due to a lack of resources. Yet, amidst these challenges, I’ve been privileged to witness the incredible resilience and strength of my communities and the advocacy they’ve championed, both on and off campus.

Across the city, there are rallying cries for initiatives like the New Deal for CUNY, Good Cause Eviction, and increases in TAP funding, all aimed at easing the lives of students like me. At NYU, we’ve fought against food insecurity through guaranteed meal programs and more. We support each other, share resources, and extend a helping hand to our peers within affinity spaces and communal gatherings.

However, the burden of securing school funding and safety nets should not solely rest on the shoulders of students. While we fight for policies that we hope will alleviate issues like housing instability and food insecurity, it’s the duty of policymakers and community leaders to address these gaps in our social systems long ago. While temporary solutions like food pantries and emergency housing assistance are vital, they are insufficient to bring about lasting change.

Our city and state governments must collaborate with colleges and universities to invest in long-term solutions that tackle these inequalities. This can be achieved by increasing aid, expanding housing options, and providing comprehensive support services for students in need.

I share my story to shed light on the struggles faced by many FGLI students, including myself, which ultimately impact our mental and physical health and add pressure to our academic performance. By sharing my experiences and those of my peers, I aim to highlight the possibility of a better world for students and advocate for meaningful change. Our city and state can create a future where every student can access the resources and support they need to succeed and thrive.

Sebastian Cardena is a current student at New York University and a native New Yorker from Manhattan and the Bronx. They are a tenant and union organizer, hoping to one day work on housing policy in local government.