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Fall 2023 NY YAP Blogs


College Blues: Mental Health at CCNY

Max Garcia

Over the past four years, attending the City College of New York (CCNY), I have noticed that the school offers a variety of on-campus resources to help students fulfill their basic needs. However, there are a couple of areas where the school could do a lot more to support students.

I’ve struggled with my mental health throughout my college career. During my freshman year, I experienced panic attacks almost every day, despite not fully understanding what a panic attack was. I was still expected to perform at a high level academically and at work, even though most of the time, I was just not feeling like myself. It wasn’t until my junior year that I discovered my school had a Counseling Center. The Counseling Center is supposed to be a place where students can receive mental health help for free, recognizing that therapy, like all other forms of healthcare, is exorbitantly expensive in this country. As a low-income student of color, I didn’t believe that therapy was an option for me until I learned about this Center. My initial thought was, “Alright, let’s give this a try.” I started exploring how to get help at this center, and I was informed that I could simply walk in to receive assistance.

However, the first challenge was finding the office, which proved to be comically difficult. It felt like I was in a sitcom with the number of times I circled the campus trying to locate this office. To provide some context for those who don’t attend City College, let me paint a picture. The newer buildings on campus, such as Marshak and the NAC, are architecturally complex. The story goes that the building architects deliberately designed them to be confusing and difficult to navigate. They were created in a way that makes it easy to get lost and nearly impossible to exit. This design was essentially a response to the student activism that swept across City College in the ’60s. In the event of a protest, the police could block off the only four exits in the entire building, making it impossible for students to escape. The hallways are essentially a maze. Got that? Now, let’s return to the present.

So, you’re on the verge of a panic attack, you’ve been lost countless times trying to find this office, and you’re walking through long, windowless hallways that all look the same. Finally, you find it: The Counseling Center. The office has dim lighting, which is quite unusual, considering that everything else in this building is brightly lit. There’s no one sitting at the front desk, even though you’ve arrived during operating hours. You make your way toward the back, hoping to find someone, and finally spot a lady at the back. She informs me that she can’t help unless I have an appointment, which contradicts what is stated on the website. But you decide not to argue with her in this secluded, dimly lit room. You thank her and exit the room, a room that took about half an hour to find, and immediately begin following the steps she outlined. You receive an email a week later, saying that no appointments are available for the next three months. To this day, I haven’t attempted to seek help again from the Counseling Center, and it’s my personal belief that many people on campus would greatly benefit from an operational Counseling Center.


Jah-Quail Griffin 

Transforming My Academic Journey

Access to dual enrollment courses has been a game-changer in my pursuit of higher education. These courses, which allow high school students to earn college credits, have profoundly shaped my academic experience, improved my persistence through college, and saved both time and money.

Expanding Horizons and Building Confidence Dual enrollment acted as a golden ticket, opening doors to a world of academic opportunities beyond high school. It enabled me to explore my passions, dive deeper into subjects of interest, and challenge myself with college-level courses. This experience enriched my learning journey and boosted my confidence by exposing me to college professors and students, facilitating a smoother transition from high school to college.

A Head Start on College One of the most significant benefits of dual enrollment was the head start it provided for my college journey. I am on track to graduate in three years with an advanced degree in social work. Earning college credits in high school gave me a substantial advantage. I had already completed essential general education requirements, allowing me to dive into advanced coursework in my major immediately. This head start not only saved time but also alleviated the financial burden of college. My high school covered tuition fees for dual enrollment courses, sparing me the typical college expenses. This financial relief was a significant blessing for both me and my family.

Fostering Academic Resilience College life’s challenges can be daunting, especially for freshmen. However, thanks to dual enrollment, I had already adapted to college-level rigor while in high school. This early exposure equipped me with the skills needed to excel in a university setting. Additionally, the self-discipline and time management skills I honed during dual enrollment became invaluable assets for handling the demands of college life. I juggled coursework, extracurricular activities, and part-time jobs more effectively, a key factor in my persistence through college.

A Boost to Career Prospects Dual enrollment not only saved time and money but also significantly impacted my career prospects. With a substantial number of college credits, I graduated earlier than many of my peers. This early graduation allowed me to enter the job market sooner and start building my career.

In conclusion, access to dual enrollment courses has transformed my academic journey. It empowered me to explore my interests, offered a head start on college, cultivated academic resilience, and enhanced my career prospects. Beyond being a means to save time and money, dual enrollment paved the way for personal and academic growth. I’m profoundly grateful for the opportunities it provides, and I encourage all high school students to consider the advantages it offers for their educational paths. Dual enrollment isn’t just a shortcut; it’s a stepping stone to a brighter and more fulfilling future.


Mercy Hiraldo-Veloz

Am I a Young Invincible, or do I just HAVE to be?

We’re the Young Invincibles now, but who were the original Young Invincibles? The super cool nickname was originally a form of sarcasm made by older generations about younger millennials, saying things like, “Oh, look at those young kids. They don’t need health care; they think they’re invincible!” While we now understand that everyone needs health care, regardless of age or other factors, Cornell University still believes that young adults don’t need health insurance, or at least an affordable one.

Cornell has its own Student Health Plan (SHP) that is mandatory for all students to have. According to their website, “All degree-seeking students attending Cornell must either be enrolled in SHP or carry other insurance that meets university requirements. Some students are required to be enrolled in SHP and do not have the option to waive this coverage.” Students will be charged a separate premium on their bursar bill unless they have an approved waiver by 7/31/2023. The price of SHP hasn’t been announced yet, but every year it was upwards of $3,500.

The saving grace for many students was the Student Health Plan Plus (SHP+), a partnership with Medicaid that had the $3,000 premium fully covered by the New York State Department of Health. However, the University sent an email to affected students on Friday, June 9, stating that the Student Health Plan Plus (SHP+) program would end at midnight on June 30 due to a loss in funding from NYSDOH.

The last-minute email put many of Cornell’s low-income students in a complicated spot. For most, the open enrollment for health insurance in New York had already closed, so applying for an alternative health plan before the waiver deadline was impossible. And even then, it could take about three weeks for an application to be processed, and then more time for the waiver for SHP to be processed. By the time they were able to submit their documents, many students were forced to enroll in SHP and take on a $3,612 debt.

My FidelisCare application and waiver were barely able to go through a week before the deadline. For many of my friends, that wasn’t the case, and they had to take on an out-of-pocket debt that, in many cases, was more than double their tuition.

In times like this, it’s hard to feel like students aren’t being purposely trapped into taking on more and more student loans under the guise of “taking care of your health.” Yes, health insurance is important, and everyone should have and take full advantage of it. But it is equally important that it should be accessible. Forcing low-income students to take on thousands of dollars in debt, on top of their tuition, housing, and meal plans, is no longer out of concern for their health but rather a money-hungry tactic.

The most concerning part is that no one outside the affected students knows what Cornell did. The school was able to get away with cornering its students into considerable debt and faced no backlash for it, successfully sweeping it under the rug. It is important to spread awareness of the quiet injustices against disenfranchised students. Bullying their already struggling students out of their money is unacceptable, and Cornell must be called out for it before they repeat this offense next year!


Jess Huang 

An Extension of My Body: Creating Equitable Pathways to Obtain Medical Equipment

Millions of Americans with disabilities, like myself, depend on durable medical equipment as an extension of their bodies. I was evaluated for my first custom wheelchair at the age of five. During that appointment, I eagerly awaited the chance to pick out a color for the chair, while my dad learned about the process of getting the chair covered through insurance. At the time, I was naive about the entire process. I now understand that obtaining medical equipment through insurance is complex and far from equitable. Efforts should be made to improve access to care and streamline this process to ensure people have what they need to live independent and productive lives.

For many people, having medical equipment covered by insurance is the only way they can afford it. Custom wheelchairs, like the one I use, can cost tens of thousands of dollars. However, many factors beyond a person’s control can influence whether equipment gets covered. For example, some providers have more experience treating people with certain medical conditions, often resulting in difficulties in providing the extensive medical documentation and justification letters required by insurance. Additionally, my experience in obtaining a wheelchair can take up to 18 months and require several appointments. For each of these appointments, my family and I have to arrange transportation to ensure we get there on time. Across the entire medical community, it is essential to consider a patient’s needs outside of treating their condition.

I’d like to pose a question: do patients without disabilities have to provide medical documentation to prove that they are sick before being seen in the emergency room? In the vast majority of cases, I would say no. It deeply bothers me that insurance companies require so much from people with disabilities just to obtain necessities, such as equipment. A less extensive process would help alleviate the barriers that I and people with disabilities at large face.

My parents have made many sacrifices so that I can access care and obtain medical equipment, including missing work without pay. I am fortunate to have had their guidance in navigating the complexities of insurance. Everyone’s reality is different, and obstacles persist. I call on the NYS Assembly to support people with disabilities and chronic medical conditions by expanding healthcare coverage, improving access to care, and advocating for efficient insurance processes. Bill A04738A establishes a comprehensive system for New Yorkers to access healthcare coverage. Beyond this, there should be an expansion of transportation and translation programs that ultimately facilitate access to care.


Rachel Ifebuzo 

Mental Health in my College and the Lack of Support 

Colleges and universities have inadequate resources for addressing students’ mental health issues.

“Specifically, 44 percent of students reported symptoms of depression; 37 percent said they experienced anxiety, and 15 percent said they were considering suicide—the highest rate in the 15-year history of the survey. More than 90,000 students across 133 U.S. campuses participated in the survey.” – (Flannery, 2023)

I didn’t believe that panic attacks were real until I had one during my spring semester of freshman year. I was simply organizing my calendar for the next month when I felt a tightness in my chest while in my dorm room, alone. None of my roommates were home. I could do nothing but sit on the floor and put my hands on my chest. I called my brother, but he was of no help. I felt like I was being suffocated by my own body. It seemed like I couldn’t breathe, or I had forgotten how to breathe. Later that night, my roommates came home and found me…

At the University at Albany, the resources available for addressing students’ mental health are mediocre, and they could be improved if the institution paid more attention to student feedback. When students call the provided phone number, they are put on hold, which can be distressing. Furthermore, the music played during this waiting period is terrible. Why should there be a waiting period on the phone when it comes to mental health services? That can be dangerous.

According to what students have said on my campus, here is what needs improvement:

“When it comes to mental health resources at colleges, there needs to be an overhaul in the hiring processes, the selection of therapists, their training, and more. I believe that when hiring professionals, especially on a college campus, there should be ample staff to handle the calls promptly and eliminate wait times.”

“I requested a black woman to be my therapist, and the person on the phone didn’t understand why. I don’t feel that I owe anyone an explanation. I have the right to have someone I can relate to when discussing personal issues I am struggling with.”

I mention all of this not to criticize my university but to raise awareness of this issue. My school has numerous resources to help students, but at times, these resources aren’t being utilized effectively, and times have changed. What worked in 2016 may not work for 2023.

I suggest that the University at Albany should send out a survey every semester to ask students how they feel about the mental health services being offered and what changes should be made or retained. Then, after reviewing the survey results, hold a discussion for the student body to express their concerns.


Ruth Ifebuzo

Housing Crisis for Returning students

“I sympathize with you, but unfortunately, there isn’t anything I can do; just keep calling back and hopefully, something changes.” This was what I said to over 200 students from May 2023 through August 2023 who called about their housing situation for fall 2023.

A quarter of the undergrads at the University at Albany, apart from freshmen and athletes, spent this summer panicking about their housing. Over one thousand four hundred students called, emailed, or came in person this summer regarding the housing crisis on campus. These students either didn’t have a housing assignment due to being removed from housing because of holds on their student account or submitted their housing applications late. Traditionally, upperclassmen would live in the apartments owned by the university and located on campus. However, since the spring of 2020, the university has been trying to recover the money lost during the university’s shutdown.

They have over-enrolled freshmen in the last two years, increasing housing costs and meal plans. Normally, there are eighteen residential halls allocated for the incoming freshmen class and another eighteen allocated for rising sophomores. Now, our university has assigned twenty-seven residential halls for freshmen, nine residential halls for sophomores, and a university apartment complex on the other side of campus for sophomores as well. This has left juniors and seniors with only two living complexes on campus, one housing only five hundred and another housing one thousand two hundred, while our university has over nine thousand juniors and seniors.

This has forced over two thousand students to either withdraw to come back in the spring semester, become part-time students, rent rooms off-campus, or move back to online classes. On-campus living is what helps the majority of students thrive academically because they are either international students or don’t have a decent living situation back home. It also helps students socialize with others, build connections with their peers, and create meaningful experiences.

This situation affects students by causing them to take out more loans, prolong their college experience, and feel as if the university isn’t there to help them. My university needs to do better because only a few sets of students are guaranteed housing, which includes athletes, freshmen, and residential life student workers.

Suggested Solutions:

  • 1. Ask freshmen if they want to live on campus or not, allowing for more accurate answers rather than forcing students to live on campus.
  • 2. Implement a policy where students living within a specific radius of the school are encouraged to commute, freeing up dorm space for students who need it more.
  • 3. Create partnerships with off-campus student housing in front of the school to secure a specific number of apartments for their students and work out the cost collaboratively.


Trystan Melas

On Track to Graduate College Early Despite Having a Double Major

Given my family’s financial struggles, I never thought I’d be able to pursue higher education at all. However, thanks to dual enrollment courses in high school and government-provided financial aid, I was able to access higher education.

I was fortunate to attend a high school that offered dual enrollment courses. I was drawn to these courses because they not only challenged me intellectually but also allowed me to gain a head start on college credits and requirements. These courses primarily included APs (Advanced Placements). I enrolled in courses like AP Psychology and AP Biology, but ultimately, I completed eight of them. Additionally, I took Spanish courses through a local college, which accelerated my higher education journey right from the beginning. The opportunity to take dual enrollment courses in high school enabled me to enter SUNY Geneseo as a Psychology major while having enough credits to graduate a year and a half early. This not only allowed me to explore an additional major, Sociology, to enrich my education but also balanced my financial and educational security, given the surplus of credits I had as a freshman. Even when I declared my second major, I remained on track to graduate a semester early.

Financial aid programs like TAP (New York State’s Tuition Assistance Program) and Pell Grants (federal awards for students in financial need) played a crucial role in my success as a college student. Receiving TAP, Pell Grants, along with SUNY scholarships and federal loans, enabled me to pursue the education I aspired to attain. I am grateful for these opportunities because they have kept my student loan debt manageable, amounting to only a few thousand dollars. Without financial aid and dual enrollment courses, I would never have been able to realize my dream of pursuing higher education and achieving my intellectual and professional aspirations.

Based on my experiences, I believe that all New York students should have access to similar opportunities and be able to finance the education they desire. Financial assistance and dual enrollment courses are essential for many New Yorkers and students beyond the state. To make this goal a reality, I encourage you to contact your local congressperson and express your support for expanding programs like TAP and Pell Grants, as well as providing more dual enrollment courses in schools across the state and country. There should be no barriers to accessing a comprehensive higher education.


Jacqueline Ordonez 

Breaking Free: Overcoming Barriers to Higher Education 

We were all raised with the anthem of education echoing in our ears throughout our childhood and well into adulthood. “Stay in school, kid,” they said, promising a golden ticket to a life of opportunity and prosperity. We’ve been told that with hard work and dedication, we can rewrite our lives, transform our circumstances, and secure a bright future. But as time marches on, you begin to notice that the promise of education does not bear the same weight for all, especially within the domain of the public school system.

I’ve come to realize that the promise of education as it once was guaranteed in this nation is now, more than ever, falling short of its expectations. As a student who was brought up in the public school system in New York City, the pandemic laid bare the stark disparity in educational opportunities and achievements my school offered compared to others across the city.

My public high school in Queens, New York has a student body of 3,652 students, all coming from different backgrounds, predominantly low-income, first-generation, and students of color. As we entered our junior year, we encountered an unexpected twist in our academic journey—the abrupt shift to online learning brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yet, my experience, shared by many fellow students, became particularly daunting when it came to navigating the college process. The anxiety and uncertainty loomed large, exacerbated by the fact that we had just two guidance counselors to serve a junior class of 500 students. This limited support proved to be inadequate for addressing our individual needs, leaving little room for one-on-one meetings with already overburdened and understaffed counselors, struggling to assist and guide every student.

The absence of these resources and the resulting lack of accessibility placed numerous students, including myself, who are first-generation and of Latinx heritage, at a disadvantage when it came to securing vital support for a smooth transition into college. The impact of limited access to Advanced Placement courses, Dual-Enrollment opportunities, and insufficient college advising was particularly prevalent among students of color. The lack of opportunity within my public school just further reinforced the already existing college access disparity, which hinders students from altering the course of their lives.

This disparity becomes evident through a recent study, which highlights the uneven allocation of opportunities like Dual Enrollment based on race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. The study uncovered participation rates of 38% for White students, while Latinx and Black students lag behind at 30% and 27%, respectively. Additionally, students from low-income Black and Latinx backgrounds are less likely to be part of dual-enrollment programs when compared to their White peers from more affluent families. Now more than ever, the responsibility falls on our legislators, policy advisors, and representatives to prioritize the equitable expansion of college access and success.

Providing increased funding for students to take college courses and earn credits during high school, expanding dual enrollment programs, and offering thorough college advising are all vital actions necessary to break down barriers for underrepresented students who have historically been denied access to higher education. As a nation, we must prioritize making college education and degree completion accessible and achievable for everyone.


Chastity Parker

What good are grades when your mental health is declining?

High grades and peak performance are goals chased by the majority of college students, but at what cost? Recent statistics reveal that 44% of college students across 133 U.S. campuses reported symptoms of depression, with an additional 15% considering suicide. Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that most college students across the nation lack the necessary access to mental health support. I, too, am a part of this group.

A successful college career is influenced and defined by more than just the letter placed at the top of a completed assignment. As students embark on their higher education journeys, there are plenty of basic needs that must be met to fuel their progression. Mental health access is a key component of these basic needs. College can be extremely stressful, especially because most attend college during their younger adult years when they are still learning to adapt to major changes and societal pressures, and are struck with the sudden task of finding themselves. Dealing with the aspects of a personal journey in addition to loads of assignments, securing internships, etc., can leave a young mind worn out.

In June of 2022, President Joe Biden called on all U.S. colleges to use federal COVID relief funds to make mental health support present and available on campuses for students. Additionally, Congress passed two bills regarding student mental health in June of 2022. Both bills encouraged college campuses to work alongside community mental health programs to develop short and long-term plans to combat the decline in student mental health. In addition, the bills called upon the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services to help campuses promote drug and alcohol misuse prevention. This bill required both departments to develop a five-year grant program that would fund prevention programs.

Students like myself, who make school a priority and maintain a strong academic standing, help increase the statistics of the colleges and universities we attend. Those institutions pride themselves on their students’ performance, yet they do not prioritize the need for accessible mental health support in the campus environment. There are way too many higher education institutions that provide little to no mental health support, and when they do, it is extremely difficult for students to make consistent and need-based appointments. Students all over the country have reported being turned away from their campuses’ mental health departments because they did not have an appointment or there weren’t any staff members available to assist them in their time of need.

As a growing society that needs the voices of tomorrow, we must nurture and cater to the mental health of our college students. Emphasizing internal wellness is more important than any grade a student could receive. With that being said, I call upon Congress to not only recognize this issue but to dig deeper into creating a financial plan that will make room for the necessary resources and programs. Funding is a key part of making any change. A tremendous impact can come if a budget is created and prioritized for increased mental health accessibility among college students.


Tiana Polk 

How Many Times Could You Make Pasta Before You Realized You Were Broke?

Have you ever had to take extra napkins home from McDonald’s because you didn’t have tissue paper at home? Come on, this is a safe place. Believe it or not, life isn’t much fun when you have to worry about how you’re going to afford tissue paper, food, and, of course, housing! As a first-generation college student who came from a low-income, single-parent household, I had quite a few tricks up my sleeve to make ends meet. Though it’s not easy making pasta for lunch and dinner for an entire week, did I add parmesan and garlic powder on a piece of white bread to spice it up every once in a while? Absolutely.

Not having consistent access to basic necessities impacted my mental health in ways I’m sure most college students can relate to. It became a constant battle of, “Should I spend this last $5 on food or save it for the subway fare I need to get to school and work tomorrow?”. Thankfully, my family and partner can support me in times of need now, but I understand that not everyone has that support. I didn’t have it for some time, and that made it so much harder for me to focus on my education.

I remember commuting to my friend’s dorm to wash my clothes because I couldn’t afford the laundromat across the street. (This was short-lived after my entire bag of clothes fell on the wet subway ground.) I eventually resorted to hand washing my clothes in the kitchen sink, but this inconsistent washing routine took a toll on my mental well-being and productivity. It was challenging to go to class because all I could think about was how hard it was going to be to wash my clothes. Being in such an intense state of survival made me lose focus on my education because I had no choice but to be preoccupied with worrying about fulfilling my basic needs.

I reached out to my advisor and was able to access my school’s food bank. I also received guidance on health insurance enrollment and emergency grant assistance. Utilizing the resources around you is the best thing you can do. I encourage everyone to work with your campus advisors to point you in the right direction for the help you need. There are platforms all across social media that you could research into. There are also multiple ways to cook pasta! I know our generation tends to be hard on themselves, so all jokes aside, it’s okay to say that it’s pretty hard to live while being in survival mode. Living on your own for the first time isn’t easy, and I want you all to know that it’s okay to admit that. It’s not easy living in this society, given the state of the economy right now. You’re doing your best, and I promise that I see that, even if no one else does.


Maya Ratner

Accessible Dental Care: A Luxury or a Necessity?

“You are a college student; I will give you a $200 discount. You will have to pay $2,800 for the implant,” said the dental office manager. A month before that appointment, I paid $950 for the bone graft. Although I have dental insurance, many procedures are not covered by it, such as implants, bone grafts, and deep cleaning. One might wonder how I ended up in that situation in the first place. It was during the fall semester of my junior year in college when a tooth, which I had previously received a root canal for, started hurting. A couple of days later, my face swelled up. My college’s health center sent me to a local dentist’s office in Geneva, New York. That’s when I found out that none of the dentist’s offices near my college accepted my insurance.

I had two options: either wait or pay over $1,000 to redo my root canal. I chose to wait, but after one year, my tooth was beyond repair, and I had developed a dental cyst. I had no choice but to pay the $950 for the bone graft. At present, I cannot afford the tooth implant, so my teeth will start to shift, and I might not be able to get one when I can afford it. The procedures that are not covered by my insurance are not cosmetic luxuries to me. I had to endure excruciating pain and occasional face swelling for a whole year.

According to a 2007 survey conducted by the New York State Department of Health, 14% of the respondents cited dental providers not accepting their insurance as a barrier to accessing dental care. Many Medicaid recipients expressed that their insurance does not cover necessary procedures, office locations are inconvenient, and they are dissatisfied with dentists who accept Medicaid. My family and I have encountered all of these barriers when trying to access dental care.


Patrice Sackor

Trials, Tribulations, and Money: The Life of an NYC College Student 

I’ve always dreamed of going to college. When I was younger, maybe around 9 or 10 years old, I imagined myself attending a college across the country, living on campus, and experiencing the full college life. However, I never considered the cost of this dream until seven years later when I had to apply for colleges. I was shocked to discover how expensive attending undergrad was for tuition alone in my own state.

Having above-average grades wouldn’t cover the cost of the life I envisioned for myself; my dream of moving to California and experiencing the typical college student lifestyle vanished within a few Google searches. Nonetheless, I didn’t mind going to school in New York; it would be closer to home, and I could save money while still getting an education. However, my hopes were quickly dashed when I was marked ineligible for financial aid due to my expected family contribution from FAFSA. Even with partial scholarships and grants from some institutions, the total cost wouldn’t be covered at all. In the eyes of the Department of Higher Education, my mother’s income as a nurse is enough to cover my college expenses, while also balancing the bills and basic necessities of the entire household. This unfortunate assumption is the reason why I was not only unable to qualify for financial aid but also had to take out thousands of dollars in loans every semester just to cover tuition. I also had to work full-time to avoid accumulating excessive debt before I was even 25 years old. The higher education system doesn’t seem designed for individuals in situations like mine (and I’ve met quite a few people in similar situations). It’s unfair to guide students toward a life that requires a college education but make obtaining this degree a series of trials, tribulations, AND MONEY! My mother raised a strong young lady, so I never allowed life’s challenges to drown me out, but I’d be lying if I said it isn’t overwhelming at times.

It’s essential to raise awareness about this issue because most students are unaware of college costs until it becomes relevant to them. Thousands of people are unable to fully enjoy their college experience because they have to work strenuous hours to pay for it or put their studies on hold to meet their basic needs. I urge our NYC Council and NYS Assembly members to support New York’s college students by considering changes to the financial aid requirements. This would ensure that students belonging to the middle-class category don’t have to struggle through college. It would provide students like myself the opportunity not only to attend college but also to live out the dream life they envisioned for themselves.


Melissa Vicente

Surviving the Concrete Jungle: NYC’s Struggle for Basic Needs in the Face of Adversity

In the bustling heart of New York City, where skyscrapers pierce the heavens and dreams are said to come true, there’s a stark reality that often goes unnoticed: the battle for basic needs like food, housing, and mental health resources. It’s a challenge that’s exacerbated by economic inequality and worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a volunteer at the Harlem-based non-profit organization WANA (We Are Not Afraid) Community Center, I’ve witnessed firsthand the resilience of a community grappling with the effects of poverty and economic insecurity. Join me as I shed light on these pressing issues, share personal experiences, and make a call to action for change.

Let me take you back to a chilly winter evening in Harlem. As I walked into the WANA Community Center, the atmosphere was filled with both warmth and desperation. Families huddled together for a hot meal, children eagerly awaiting a warm place to do their homework, and individuals seeking solace from the relentless struggles of daily life. It’s here that I’ve come to understand that the issues of access to basic needs are not abstract concepts but the lived experiences of countless New Yorkers.

New York City, often viewed as the epitome of prosperity, is also home to stark disparities. While the city’s skyline gleams with opulence, a staggering number of its residents face hunger, homelessness, and inadequate mental health support. The question arises: Why should we care?

It matters because these issues are not isolated incidents. They are symptomatic of a broader problem that transcends the five boroughs. They are indicative of systemic issues that demand our attention.

As we’ve seen in recent years, these topics have found their way into political debates and discussions around the dinner table. The pandemic laid bare the fragility of our social safety nets. Families that once teetered on the edge of financial security were pushed into the abyss of economic hardship. The debate over affordable housing, the need for robust mental health services, and the hunger crisis are no longer whispers but loud calls for action.

Let’s talk numbers for a moment. Before the pandemic, food insecurity affected nearly 1.5 million New Yorkers. After COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the city, that number surged to over 2 million. In a city where luxury penthouses line the skyline, it’s disheartening that homelessness remains an inescapable reality for over 60,000 people. Mental health resources are stretched thin, leaving many without the support they desperately need.

But it’s not just about the statistics. It’s about the faces behind those numbers. It’s about a single mother working two jobs to put food on the table for her children. It’s about a veteran grappling with PTSD who can’t access the mental health services he deserves. It’s about the elderly woman who’s been evicted from her home because she couldn’t afford the rising rent. In the city that never sleeps, it’s time for us to wake up to the realities faced by our fellow New Yorkers. We must advocate for comprehensive solutions that address food insecurity, affordable housing, and mental health support. It’s crucial to support organizations like WANA Community Centers that are on the frontlines, providing a lifeline to those in need.

But it’s not just about charity; it’s about systemic change. We must hold our leaders accountable, demand affordable housing policies, allocate resources for mental health services, and invest in education and job training to break the cycle of poverty.

Together, we can transform New York City into a place where basic needs are accessible to all, regardless of their zip code. Let’s ensure that the city that never sleeps is also the city that never turns its back on its own. It’s time to make the dream of a more equitable and compassionate NYC a reality. Are you in?

As the sun sets over Harlem, the challenges persist, but so does the indomitable spirit of its residents. It’s a spirit that refuses to be defeated, a spirit that cries out, “We are not afraid.” It’s a spirit we should all embrace as we work toward a brighter, more inclusive future for the city that never stops striving.


Klaudia Wiacek


It’s clear that dual enrollment programs can be incredibly beneficial for high school students, providing them with a valuable head start on their college education. Your reflection on not having had the opportunity to participate in dual enrollment is a testament to the potential advantages these programs offer. They can help students develop crucial academic and study skills, expose them to the college environment, and even accelerate their path toward a degree.

It’s important for high school students and their parents to explore the availability of dual enrollment programs in their area and understand the requirements for participation. Dual enrollment can not only enhance a student’s academic readiness for college but also save them time and money in the long run. By gaining college credits while in high school, students can potentially graduate earlier or have more flexibility in their college course selection.

Your encouragement to high school students to consider dual enrollment is well-founded. These programs can offer a significant advantage in preparing for the transition to higher education and setting the stage for a successful college career. It’s never too late to explore opportunities for gaining college credits during high school, and many students find it to be a rewarding experience.


Priscilla Wiafe 

Navigating College Struggles: Bridging the Gap to Basic Needs and Education  

Starting my journey as a college student, I noticed that I was walking a tightrope between academic pursuits and the challenge of meeting fundamental needs. My main purpose in sharing my story is to shed light on the hurdles countless students face and underscore the critical importance of addressing basic needs and access for all and the type of impact it has.

As a full-time college student, I tried to burn the midnight oil to complete assignments, attend classes, and work part-time to make ends meet. This is my reality, and I faced the daunting challenge of balancing higher education with the constant worry about accessing basic needs like food, comfortable dorm rooms, and healthcare. Food insecurity has become a persistent companion, forcing me to skip meals or survive on ramen noodles to stretch my limited budget.

The uncertainty about my next meal created a distracting backdrop, hindering my focus on my studies. Fortunately, my school lacks support for students facing such challenges. However, workers at the food place consistently help students without meal plans, which proves crucial. Despite the absence of on-campus resources like a food pantry, emergency housing support, and healthcare services at times, which should be provided, these have become a source of hope for me. Initially disappointed with the campus food pantry, the invaluable support I received from a food drive by my CSTEP program surpassed my expectations. Dignified offerings of fresh produce, canned goods, and hygiene products eased some of the burdens I carried.

Access to these resources not only eased my immediate struggles but also allowed me to concentrate on my studies. Attending classes without the gnawing hunger in my stomach or the constant worry about where I would sleep that night became a reality. These resources were instrumental in my academic success, proving that addressing basic needs insecurity is not just a fringe issue but a pressing concern affecting countless dream pursuers. Basic needs insecurity among students is not an isolated problem; it is a widespread concern affecting many individuals striving for their dreams. Congress and educational institutions must recognize the gravity of these challenges and take decisive action.

For those facing similar struggles or advocating for accessible education, there are actionable steps to take. Reach out to your college or university to discover available resources, advocate for policies supporting basic needs access, and share your story to raise awareness. Small actions can spark momentous change. My academic journey so far, marked by hurdles, resilience, and community support, underscores the need to dismantle barriers hindering students’ access to resources. Collaboration empowers impactful change, addressing challenges while balancing academic pursuits and basic needs. Juggling studies, work, and food insecurity, campus resources alleviated burdens, emphasizing the urgent need for action from Congress and educational institutions. Advocacy, awareness, and support can spark transformative change, preserving education as a beacon of hope.