Building off of last year’s goals, the First Generation Low Income (FGLI) Committee is moving forward with a budget proposal to open dining halls during breaks, as well as continuing their work to make University health insurance more affordable.
On Monday Sept. 30, the committee, a handful of students and administrators representing the Office of Student Affairs, the Davison Health Center, and the Financial Aid Office, met to discuss goals for the coming year and follow up on business items from last semester.
The FGLI Committee is a fairly new group, formed in the summer of 2017 as a response to a tumultuous, informal panel with FGLI students and administrators, where it became apparent that there was a lack of understanding and communication about the needs of first-generation and low-income students. The FGLI Committee, formerly the FGLI Task Force, consists of a group of students and University administrators who come together on a regular basis to discuss and tackle issues that affect the FGLI community on campus.
One of the key topics was making University-provided health insurance more affordable, and the FGLI Committee is pushing to draft a proposal. Paying for Gallagher Student Insurance, the insurance offered through the University, and Husky Healthcare, the Connecticut Medicaid plan provided through the University, can present a financial burden for students.
Last semester, students on the FGLI Committee identified affordable health care as one of their top priorities. University students must be enrolled in a health care plan in order to be enrolled in the University, and financial aid does not cover University-provided insurance. Instead, students are charged an additional $2,292 per semester. For students who have to enroll in the University’s insurance this is an extra, often burdensome, expense.
During the Sept. 30 meeting, Director of University Health Center Joyce Walter explained that students who have out-of-state health insurance often have a difficult time enrolling in the University’s insurance plan because of the cumbersome process. Walter acknowledged that, even with the plan, students will often have to pay deductibles. Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Whaley explained that the Davison Health Center is attempting to make the process more accessible to students by holding information sessions.
“Something that Joyce [Walter] is working on is promoting better information for students,” Whaley said. “How to get onto Husky if you’re in an out-of-state Medicaid plan.”
In a joint email, Walter and Medical Office Manager Rhonda Radcliff reaffirmed that students who have questions are always welcome to reach out.
“The Health Center Office manager, Rhonda works throughout the summer and is always available, as well as myself to answer insurance questions,” Walter and Radcliff wrote. “We prefer students contact the Health Center with questions rather than our vendor Gallagher insurance as we have a better understanding of our student needs.”
For international students who aren’t familiar with health care in the United States, the process can often be confusing and stressful. Before graduating, Arham Aftabkazi ’19 often wouldn’t seek medical help because of his anxiety around deductibles.
“I didn’t know about health care going in because health care at home is free, as it is in most of the world,” Aftabkazi said. “I was very anxious about whether I’d get charged for things.”
During his senior year, Aftabkazi had to go to the hospital for a medical emergency. Once there, a nurse suggested he get an MRI. He later came to realize that the MRI was only precautionary and was shocked to see how much the hospital charged him for it.
“I wish I’d known more about how the insurance system worked,” Aftabkazi said.
Joshua Reed ’21 said that health care has been his main point of financial stress during his time at the University.
“One of the problems with Wesleyan’s attitude towards financial aid is that they make the unreasonable assumption that, as a low-income student, you would rather see Clark Hall, a sundial, or any number of other facile additions to the University than, say, affordable insurance,” Reed said. “This may not seem like a problem to people whose parents pay for their insurance, but I promise you that $3,000 isn’t small peanuts for any low-income student.”
While Reed is on an almost-full scholarship to Wesleyan thanks to QuestBridge, he continues to have to pay out of pocket for his insurance. Because he has no familial support, this is Reed’s biggest, most stressful expense.
Though the committee still views health care as a top priority, it is unclear when the proposal for health insurance coverage will be drafted or whether it will go through.
The committee also addressed issues with student dining over breaks, another top priority from last semester, since FGLI students who live on campus during breaks often face food insecurity due to the closure of campus dining halls. While Weshop is open during breaks, some students don’t have the points available to spend or the resources to cook meals for themselves. If the budget proposal to open dining options over breaks is passed, University officials will move onto a discussion of which dining halls will be open and at what times.
Ricardo Vega ’21 said that eating during breaks has been a point of stress for him.
“I stay on campus for most of the smaller breaks, and getting food can be pretty hard sometimes,” Vega said. “There is limited transportation to the grocery stores, Weshop is open only for a few hours, and the food that I do get is usually low quality or not healthy.”
Wesleying’s point calculator, the popular method students use to track their remaining points each semester, does not account for students using points over the break periods. As a result, students might find it difficult to budget their points over breaks, especially since students are only able to use points at Weshop. Often, students who have to stay over breaks end up spending too many points and have to petition the University for more points at the end of the semester.
Some students choose to shop at the grocery stores, rather than going to Weshop, which can also present a financial burden. Aftabkazi had been unaware that Weshop was open during breaks and thought that grocery stores were his only option, blaming his lack of knowledge on not carefully reading the break emails.
“I think, in just a four-day period, you can rack up a significant amount of money,” Aftabkazi said, referring to the trips he took to the Middletown Aldi for groceries. “Even spending like $50 for five days was a lot. It was a huge chunk of money.”
As a response to student concerns and lack of access to food, the FGLI Committee has been working to keep a dining hall open during break. Whaley acknowledged that dining is an issue that they would like to continue to address.
“We just put a proposal into the budget request process to have a dining option available for fall and spring breaks and then for winter next year,” Whaley said.
Whaley is optimistic about the impact that the FGLI Committee will have in the coming year.
“This year, I think that the program was really strong,” Whaley said. “I think the 2020 cohort was really energetic this year. I feel really good about that.”
Katie Livingston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.