Where’s the representation for low-income students?

Denise Emerson

Of 1,103 campus organizations, not a single one is dedicated to low-income students, according to HornsLink.

Students in the bottom 20 percent of household income in Texas comprise only six percent of UT’s student population. With so few low-income students in our community, they can feel isolated and embarrassed by their financial status. Every student on the 40 Acres deserves to experience a campus that provides support and inclusion.

“So little of us are on campus, it’s really hard to come out of the shadows,” said Lesly Reza Olguin, a bilingual education sophomore. “It’s like nobody understands what I’m going through.”

Reza Olguin is a DACA recipient and low-income student at UT. She is able to attend UT through multiple scholarships and by working a part-time job. During her freshman year, Reza Olguin ran out of Dine In Dollars and had to ask her friend to swipe her into dining halls. It wasn’t until her sophomore year that she discovered Student Emergency Services resources, which provided resources such as HEB gift cards.

Without an outlet to connect them to University resources, low-income students may keep their troubles to themselves and never seek help. UT needs to provide a community and level of guidance for low income students who feel isolated.

“I wish they were more open and advertised the aid that they do have,” Reza Olguin said. “Because coming in freshman year, that would’ve been so helpful.”

Reza Olguin said she wouldn’t have been so lost her freshman year if she had guidance. The Counseling and Mental Health Center has support groups to unite many students, yet there’s none geared toward low-income students.

Richard Reddick, a professor for the College of Education, researches inclusivity and diversity in higher education.

“If you’re a low-income student, you have to be able to articulate to people who may not care or understand ‘I need resources. I need food,’” Reddick said. “It’s very hard.”

If there was more visibility and unity for low-income students, it would be easier for them to talk about these issues.

Last spring, Student Emergency Services opened UT Outpost, a food pantry and professional career closet. The Outpost provides monthly food packages and professional clothing students can use for interviews.

Will Ross, the coordinator of the program, said the service is meant to be welcoming and simple because students are hesitant to reach out for help due to embarrassment.

“I believe the stigma still exists — the fear to go to a food pantry or professional closing closet,” Ross said. “And that’s something that we’re trying educate students on. We’re trying to normalize that.”

According to Ross, the Outpost is trying to raise awareness and collaborate with other groups on campus. This is where an organization for low-income students would be perfect; it could better connect students with resources such as Outpost.

The UT Student Veterans Association has a primary goal to foster a community for student veterans while providing resources. The University should sponsor a low-commitment organization similar to the Veterans Association for low-income students. Even meeting once or twice a month could be beneficial.

Creating a community where students can be confident in themselves will open the door to better connections with the University and their resources. All it takes is the kickoff of student organizations that can improve the experience of low-income Longhorns.

Emerson is a journalism and radio-television-film sophomore from San Antonio.