The University of Iowa Student Government recently passed a bill for a First Generation Summit, with the goal of increasing support for such students.
“At the University of Iowa, we have an undergraduate class that is typically a quarter first-generation students, and in many situations, students who are first-generation face many barriers to success,” UISG President Jacob Simpson said. “What we want to do is make sure that those students from the UI have the resources and the support from the university to ensure that they can be successful.”
As a first-generation student myself, I feel like this is a really great idea in theory, but there has to be a limit. The budget for the First Generation Summit is $66,328, which seems like a reasonable price at face value, until you realize that $45,000 of that is allocated specifically for a keynote speaker.
Simpson said no money has been spent on a speaker yet, and the size of the audience has not been fully determined. He also said that the $45,000 is a max on the speaker, and that the actual price may be cheaper.
I would dismiss this if this was a speaker talking to a group of 5,000 students, but as of now, the event will be held in a space that seats 250 students. That is a lot of money to dedicate to so few people.
“We are entirely committed to making sure that this has a broad impact, and we’re working with event services to find other options to have as many people participate as possible,” Simpson said.
Simpson said that UISG might have the possibility to increase attendance to 700 and offer even greater participation online, but I feel that even with these efforts, it doesn’t excuse the amount of money being spent on one person.
While I also respect the idea of using technology to spread the speaker’s awareness, if students wanted to watch the speaker online, they could go to YouTube and look up a similar message.
That is enough money to give an out-of-state student a full ride four-year scholarship, and it is going to a speaker who will only speak for 30 minutes to an hour.
“Even if there were 250 people in the room, the impact of the speaker is so much greater than the attendance,” Simpson said. “It’s about looking at the summit as a whole and not breaking it down into its individual pieces.”
It’s easy to get excited about lending a helping hand to those who need it, but one must look at how much we are actually helping. An event like this would only put a Band-Aid on the real problem.
UISG needs to take the time to get a bigger space to allow for more students to come. Simpson says the effect of the summit is more important than the attendance, but wasting money on a flashy expensive speaker will help no one. If UISG really wants to dedicate a program to first-gen students, it needs to slow down and do it right, because a rushed solution is no solution at all.
“I understand people’s concerns about being responsible with our funds,” Simpson said. “And it’s a priority for me and student gov as a whole to make sure that the student-activity fee is being spent in a equitable and impactful way.”